Cellobiose metabolism is linked to the virulence properties in numerous bacterial pathogens. Here, we characterized a putative cellobiose PTS operon of Clostridiodes difficile to investigate the role of cellobiose metabolism in C. difficile pathogenesis. Our gene knockout experiments demonstrated that the putative cellobiose operon enables uptake of cellobiose into C. difficile and allows growth when cellobiose is provided as the sole carbon source in minimal medium. Additionally, using reporter gene fusion assays and DNA pulldown experiments, we show that its transcription is regulated by CelR, a novel transcriptional repressor protein, which directly binds to the upstream region of the cellobiose operon to control its expression. We have also identified cellobiose metabolism to play a significant role in C. difficile physiology as observed by the reduction of sporulation efficiency when cellobiose uptake was compromised in the mutant strain. In corroboration to in vitro study findings, our in vivo hamster challenge experiment showed a significant reduction of pathogenicity by the cellobiose mutant strain in both the primary and the recurrent infection model - substantiating the role of cellobiose metabolism in C. difficile pathogenesis.
Keywords: C. difficile; Clostridioides difficile; celR; cellobiose.