Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is a life-threatening human pathogen worldwide. The locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) in EHEC encodes a type three secretion system and effector proteins, all of which are essential for bacterial adherence to host cells. When LEE expression is activated, flagellar gene expression is down-regulated because bacterial flagella induce the immune responses of host cells at the infection stage. Therefore, this inverse regulation is also important for EHEC infection. We report here that a small regulatory RNA (sRNA), Esr41, mediates LEE repression and flagellar gene activation. Multiple copies of esr41 abolished LEE expression by down-regulating the expression of ler and pch, which encode positive regulators of LEE. This regulation led to reduced EHEC adhesion to host cells. Translational gene-reporter fusion experiments revealed that Esr41 regulates ler expression at a post-transcriptional level, and pch transcription, probably via an unknown target of Esr41. Esr41-mediated ler and pch repression was not observed in cells lacking hfq, which encodes an RNA-binding protein essential for most sRNA functions, indicating that Esr41 acts in an Hfq-dependent manner. We previously reported an increase in cell motility induced by Esr41. This motility enhancement was also observed in EHEC lacking ler, showing that Esr41-mediated enhancement of cell motility is in a ler-independent manner. In addition, Esr41 activated the expression of flagellar Class 3 genes by indirectly inducing the transcription of fliA, which encodes the sigma factor for flagellar synthesis. These results suggest that Esr41 plays important roles in the inverse regulation of LEE and flagellar gene expression.
Keywords: EHEC; LEE; flagellar; small RNA.