Increased plasmid copy number is essential for Yersinia T3SS function and virulence

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 492-495
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7501

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Plasmid copy number promotes plague

The virulence of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, is encoded on a plasmid. Normally, the bacterium only tolerates one copy of the plasmid, which provides the molecular machinery for injecting toxins into host cells. Wang et al. have found that Y. pestis can only be pathogenic if plasmid numbers are boosted and express enough protein components to assemble a functional virulence apparatus. Problematically, the synthetic activity of the plasmid has such a high metabolic cost that it can impede growth. Thus, the bacterium only allows the plasmid to replicate when it senses a potential host cell.

Science, this issue p. 492


Pathogenic bacteria have evolved numerous virulence mechanisms that are essential for establishing infections. The enterobacterium Yersinia uses a type III secretion system (T3SS) encoded by a 70-kilobase, low-copy, IncFII-class virulence plasmid. We report a novel virulence strategy in Y. pseudotuberculosis in which this pathogen up-regulates the plasmid copy number during infection. We found that an increased dose of plasmid-encoded genes is indispensable for virulence and substantially elevates the expression and function of the T3SS. Remarkably, we observed direct, tight coupling between plasmid replication and T3SS function. This regulatory pathway provides a framework for further exploration of the environmental sensing mechanisms of pathogenic bacteria.

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