Cryptic prophages are not genomic junk but instead enable cells to combat myriad stresses as an active stress response. How these phage fossils affect persister cell resuscitation has, however, not been explored. Persister cells form as a result of stresses such as starvation, antibiotics and oxidative conditions, and resuscitation of these persister cells likely causes recurring infections such as those associated with tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and Lyme disease. Deletion of each of the nine Escherichia coli cryptic prophages has no effect on persister cell formation. Strikingly, elimination of each cryptic prophage results in an increase in persister cell resuscitation with a dramatic increase in resuscitation upon deleting all nine prophages. This increased resuscitation includes eliminating the need for a carbon source and is due to activation of the phosphate import system resulting from inactivating the transcriptional regulator AlpA of the CP4-57 cryptic prophage. Deletion of alpA increases persister resuscitation, and AlpA represses phosphate regulator PhoR. Both phosphate regulators PhoP and PhoB stimulate resuscitation. This suggests a novel cellular stress mechanism controlled by cryptic prophages: regulation of phosphate uptake which controls the exit of the cell from dormancy and prevents premature resuscitation in the absence of nutrients.
© 2021 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.