The ability to form biofilms is critical for environmental survival and transmission of Vibrio cholerae, a facultative human pathogen responsible for the disease cholera. Biofilm formation is controlled by several transcriptional regulators and alternative sigma factors. In this study, we report that the two main positive regulators of biofilm formation, VpsR and VpsT, bind to nonoverlapping target sequences in the regulatory region of vpsL in vitro. VpsR binds to a proximal site (the R1 box) as well as a distal site (the R2 box) with respect to the transcriptional start site identified upstream of vpsL. The VpsT binding site (the T box) is located between the R1 and R2 boxes. While mutations in the T and R boxes resulted in a decrease in vpsL expression, deletion of the T and R2 boxes resulted in an increase in vpsL expression. Analysis of the role of H-NS in vpsL expression revealed that deletion of hns resulted in enhanced vpsL expression. The level of vpsL expression was higher in an hns vpsT double mutant than in the parental strain but lower than that in an hns mutant. In silico analysis of the regulatory regions of the VpsR and VpsT targets resulted in the identification of conserved recognition motifs for VpsR and VpsT and revealed that operons involved in biofilm formation and vpsT are coregulated by VpsR and VpsT. Furthermore, a comparative genomics analysis revealed substantial variability in the promoter region of the vpsT and vpsL genes among extant V. cholerae isolates, suggesting that regulation of biofilm formation is under active selection.
Importance: Vibrio cholerae causes cholera and is a natural inhabitant of aquatic environments. One critical factor that is important for environmental survival and transmission of V. cholerae is the microbe's ability to form biofilms, which are surface-associated communities encased in a matrix composed of the exopolysaccharide VPS (Vibrio polysaccharide), proteins, and nucleic acids. Two proteins, VpsR and VpsT, positively regulate VPS production and biofilm formation. We characterized the structural features of the promoter of the vpsL gene, determined the target sequences recognized by VpsT and VpsR, and analyzed their distribution and conservation patterns in multiple V. cholerae isolates. This work fills a fundamental gap in our understanding of the regulatory mechanisms employed by the master regulators VpsR and VpsT in controlling biofilm matrix production.
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