NhaR, LeuO, and H-NS Are Part of an Expanded Regulatory Network for Ectoine Biosynthesis Expression

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Bacteria accumulate compatible solutes to maintain cellular turgor pressure when exposed to high salinity. In the marine halophile Vibrio parahaemolyticus, the compatible solute ectoine is biosynthesized de novo, which is energetically more costly than uptake; therefore, tight regulation is required. To uncover novel regulators of the ectoine biosynthesis ectABC-asp_ect operon, a DNA affinity pulldown of proteins interacting with the ectABC-asp_ect regulatory region was performed. Mass spectrometry analysis identified, among others, 3 regulators: LeuO, NhaR, and the nucleoid associated protein H-NS. In-frame non-polar deletions were made for each gene and PectA-gfp promoter reporter assays were performed in exponential and stationary phase cells. PectA-gfp expression was significantly repressed in the ΔleuO mutant and significantly induced in the ΔnhaR mutant compared to wild type, suggesting positive and negative regulation, respectively. In the Δhns mutant, PectA-gfp showed increased expression in exponential phase cells, but no change compared to wild type in stationary phase cells. To examine whether H-NS interacts with LeuO or NhaR at the ectoine regulatory region, double deletion mutants were created. In a ΔleuO/Δhns mutant, PectA-gfp showed reduced expression, but significantly more than ΔleuO, suggesting H-NS and LeuO interact to regulate ectoine expression. However, ΔnhaR/Δhns had no additional effect compared to ΔnhaR, suggesting NhaR regulation is independent of H-NS. To examine leuO regulation further, a PleuO-gfp reporter analysis was examined that showed significantly increased expression in the ΔleuO, Δhns, and ΔleuO/Δhns mutants compared to wild type, indicating both are repressors. Growth pattern analysis of the mutants in M9G 6%NaCl showed growth defects compared to wild type, indicating that these regulators play an important physiological role in salinity stress tolerance outside of regulating ectoine biosynthesis gene expression. IMPORTANCE Ectoine is a commercially used compatible solute that acts as a biomolecule stabilizer because of its additional role as a chemical chaperone. A better understanding of how the ectoine biosynthetic pathway is regulated in natural bacterial producers can be used to increase efficient industrial production. The de novo biosynthesis of ectoine is essential for bacteria to survive osmotic stress when exogenous compatible solutes are absent. This study identified LeuO as a positive regulator and NhaR as a negative regulator of ectoine biosynthesis and showed that, similar to enteric species, LeuO is an anti-silencer of H-NS. In addition, defects in growth in high salinity among all the mutants suggest that these regulators play a broader role in the osmotic stress response beyond ectoine biosynthesis regulation.
This article was originally published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The version of record is available at: https://doi.org/10.1128/aem.00479-23. This article will be embargoed until 12/6/2023.
ectoine biosynthesis regulation, Vibrio, LeuO, NhaR, H-NS, ToxR, ectoine, osmolytes
Boas Lichty Katherine E., Gregory Gwendolyn J., and Boyd E. Fidelma. “NhaR, LeuO, and H-NS Are Part of an Expanded Regulatory Network for Ectoine Biosynthesis Expression.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 89, no. 6 (June 6, 2023): e00479-23. https://doi.org/10.1128/aem.00479-23.