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Journal of Bacteriology


Geisel School of Medicine


Expression of the ctx and tcp genes, which encode cholera toxin and the toxin coregulated pilus, the Vibrio cholerae O1 virulence determinants having the largest contribution to cholera disease, is repressed by the nucleoid-associated protein H-NS and activated by the AraC-like transcriptional regulator ToxT. To elucidate the molecular mechanism by which H-NS controls transcription of the ctxAB operon, H-NS repression and binding were characterized by using a promoter truncation series, gel mobility shift assays, and DNase I footprinting. Promoter regions found to be important for H-NS repression correlated with in vitro binding. Four main H-NS binding regions are present at ctx. One region overlaps the high-affinity ToxT binding site and extends upstream, another overlaps the ToxT low-affinity binding site around the −35 element, and the remaining two are located adjacent to one another downstream of the transcriptional start site. Competition for binding to the overlapping H-NS/ToxT binding sites was observed in gel mobility shift assays, where ToxT was found to displace H-NS from the ctx promoter region. In addition, regulatory differences between the ctx and tcpA promoters were examined. H-NS was found to have a higher relative binding affinity for the ctx promoter than for the tcpA promoter in vitro. In contrast to ToxT-dependent activation of the tcpA promoter, ToxT activation of ctx did not require the C-terminal domain of the α-subunit of RNA polymerase. These findings demonstrate that transcriptional regulation of ctx and tcpA by H-NS and ToxT is mechanistically distinct, and this may lead to important differences in the expression of these coregulated genes.