The atxA Gene Product Activates Transcription of the Anthrax Toxin Genes and Is Essential for Virulence

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Jun;16(6):1171-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.tb02340.x.


Bacillus anthracis plasmid pXO1 carries the structural genes for the three anthrax toxin proteins, cya (edema factor), lef (lethal factor), and pag (protective antigen). Expression of the toxin genes by B. anthracis is enhanced during growth under elevated levels of CO2. This CO2 effect is observed only in the presence of another pXO1 gene, atxA, which encodes a transactivator of anthrax toxin synthesis. Here we show that transcription of atxA does not appear to differ in cells grown in 5% CO2 compared with cells grown in air. Using a new efficient method for gene replacement in B. anthracis, we constructed an atxA-null mutant in which the atxA-coding sequence on pXO1 is replaced with an omega km-2 cassette. Transcription of all three toxin genes is decreased in the absence of atxA. The pag gene possesses two apparent transcription start sites, P1 and P2; only transcripts with 5' ends mapping to P1 are decreased in the atxA-null mutant. Deletion analysis of the pag promoter region indicates that the 111 bp region upstream of the P1 site is sufficient for atxA-mediated activation of this transcript. The cya and lef genes each have one apparent start site for transcription. Transcripts with 5' ends mapping to these sites are not detected in the atxA-null mutant. The atxA-null mutant is avirulent in mice. Moreover, the antibody response to all three toxin proteins is decreased significantly in atxA-null mutant-infected mice. These data suggest that the atxA gene product also regulates toxin gene expression during infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial*
  • Bacillus anthracis / chemistry
  • Bacillus anthracis / genetics*
  • Bacillus anthracis / pathogenicity
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Primers
  • Endoribonucleases / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional / genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • RNA, Antisense / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*
  • Trans-Activators / physiology
  • Transcriptional Activation*
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Antisense
  • Trans-Activators
  • anthrax toxin
  • Endoribonucleases
  • ribonuclease T(2)