A role for bacteriophages in the evolution and transfer of bacterial virulence determinants

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Oct;18(2):201-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.mmi_18020201.x.


A virulence-associated region in the genome of Dichelobacter nodosus has been shown to contain an integrase gene which is highly related to the integrases of Shigella flexneri phage Sf6 and coliphages P4 and phi R73, together with open reading frames (vapB, C and D) related to genes borne on plasmids in Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Escherichia coli, Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans and Treponema denticola. Similar to P4 and phi R73, the vap region is bracketed by putative bacteriophage att sites and is adjacent to a tRNA gene, which suggests that the vap region has been derived by the integration of a bacteriophage, or a plasmid carrying a bacteriophage-related integrase gene. Many similarities in genes and genes clusters encoding virulence determinants have been found in distantly related bacteria. These genes are often located on plasmids in one organism but on the chromosome in others, implying that transmission of the genes has been followed by integration. Thus, the events which have generated the vap regions of D. nodosus may represent a common mechanism for transfer of virulence determinants. A number of genes involved in the virulence of bacterial pathogens are found on integrated bacteriophages, and we suggest that others will prove to be associated with tRNA genes and/or integrase genes derived from bacteriophages. The use of tRNA genes as integration sites for many bacteriophages and plasmids may favour intergeneric transmission, as tRNA genes are highly conserved.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attachment Sites, Microbiological
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Bacteriophages / pathogenicity*
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases / physiology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Integrases
  • Lysogeny
  • Plasmids
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Virulence / genetics*
  • Virus Integration


  • RNA, Transfer
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • Integrases