The type VI secretion system (T6SS) is a weapon for delivering effectors into target cells that is widespread in Gram-negative bacteria. The T6SS is a highly versatile machine, as it can target both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, and it has been proposed that T6SSs are adapted to the specific needs of each bacterium. The expression of T6SS gene clusters and the activation of the secretion apparatus are therefore tightly controlled. In enteroaggregative Escherichia coli (EAEC), the sci1 T6SS gene cluster is subject to a complex regulation involving both the ferric uptake regulator (Fur) and DNA adenine methylase (Dam)-dependent DNA methylation. In this study, an additional, internal, promoter was identified within the sci1 gene cluster using +1 transcriptional mapping. Further analyses demonstrated that this internal promoter is controlled by a mechanism strictly identical to that of the main promoter. The Fur binding box overlaps the -10 transcriptional element and a Dam methylation site, GATC-32. Hence, the expression of the distal sci1 genes is repressed and the GATC-32 site is protected from methylation in iron-rich conditions. The Fur-dependent protection of GATC-32 was confirmed by an in vitro methylation assay. In addition, the methylation of GATC-32 negatively impacted Fur binding. The expression of the sci1 internal promoter is therefore controlled by iron availability through Fur regulation, whereas Dam-dependent methylation maintains a stable ON expression in iron-limited conditions.IMPORTANCE Bacteria use weapons to deliver effectors into target cells. One of these weapons, the type VI secretion system (T6SS), assembles a contractile tail acting as a spring to propel a toxin-loaded needle. Its expression and activation therefore need to be tightly regulated. Here, we identified an internal promoter within the sci1 T6SS gene cluster in enteroaggregative E. coli We show that this internal promoter is controlled by Fur and Dam-dependent methylation. We further demonstrate that Fur and Dam compete at the -10 transcriptional element to finely tune the expression of T6SS genes. We propose that this elegant regulatory mechanism allows the optimum production of the T6SS in conditions where enteroaggregative E. coli encounters competing species.
Keywords: epigenetism; methylation; microbial communities; regulation; repression; type VI secretion.
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