Identification of BvgA-Dependent and BvgA-Independent Small RNAs (sRNAs) in Bordetella pertussis Using the Prokaryotic sRNA Prediction Toolkit ANNOgesic

Microbiol Spectr. 2021 Sep 22;e0004421. doi: 10.1128/Spectrum.00044-21. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Noncoding small RNAs (sRNAs) are crucial for the posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression in all organisms and are known to be involved in the regulation of bacterial virulence. In the human pathogen Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough, virulence is controlled primarily by the master two-component system BvgA (response regulator)/BvgS (sensor kinase). In this system, BvgA is phosphorylated (Bvg+ mode) or nonphosphorylated (Bvg- mode), with global transcriptional differences between the two. B. pertussis also carries the bacterial sRNA chaperone Hfq, which has previously been shown to be required for virulence. Here, we conducted transcriptomic analyses to identify possible B. pertussis sRNAs and to determine their BvgAS dependence using transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) and the prokaryotic sRNA prediction program ANNOgesic. We identified 143 possible candidates (25 Bvg+ mode specific and 53 Bvg- mode specific), of which 90 were previously unreported. Northern blot analyses confirmed all of the 10 ANNOgesic candidates that we tested. Homology searches demonstrated that 9 of the confirmed sRNAs are highly conserved among B. pertussis, Bordetella parapertussis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica, with one that also has homologues in other species of the Alcaligenaceae family. Using coimmunoprecipitation with a B. pertussis FLAG-tagged Hfq, we demonstrated that 3 of the sRNAs interact directly with Hfq, which is the first identification of sRNA binding to B. pertussis Hfq. Our study demonstrates that ANNOgesic is a highly useful tool for the identification of sRNAs in this system and that its combination with molecular techniques is a successful way to identify various BvgAS-dependent and Hfq-binding sRNAs. IMPORTANCE Noncoding small RNAs (sRNAs) are crucial for posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression in all organisms and are known to be involved in the regulation of bacterial virulence. We have investigated the presence of sRNAs in the obligate human pathogen B. pertussis, using transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) and the recently developed prokaryotic sRNA search program ANNOgesic. This analysis has identified 143 sRNA candidates (90 previously unreported). We have classified their dependence on the B. pertussis two-component system required for virulence, namely, BvgAS, based on their expression in the presence/absence of the phosphorylated response regulator BvgA, confirmed several by Northern analyses, and demonstrated that 3 bind directly to B. pertussis Hfq, the RNA chaperone involved in mediating sRNA effects. Our study demonstrates the utility of combining RNA-seq, ANNOgesic, and molecular techniques to identify various BvgAS-dependent and Hfq-binding sRNAs, which may unveil the roles of sRNAs in pertussis pathogenesis.

Keywords: ANNOgesic; BvgAS regulon; Hfq; RNA-seq; pertussis; small RNA.