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Activation of cholera toxin production by anaerobic respiration of trimethylamine N-oxide in Vibrio cholerae

Lee, KM;Park, Y;Bari, W;Yoon, MY;Go, J;Kim, SC;Lee, HI;Yoon, SS;

Vibrio cholerae is a gram-negative bacterium that causes cholera. Although the pathogenesis caused by this deadly pathogen takes place in the intestine, commonly thought to be anaerobic, anaerobiosis-induced virulence regulations are not fully elucidated. Anerobic growth of the V. cholerae strain, N16961, was promoted when trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) was used as an alternative electron acceptor. Strikingly, cholera toxin (CT) production was markedly induced during anaerobic TMAO respiration. N16961 mutants unable to metabolize TMAO were incapable of producing CT, suggesting a mechanistic link between anaerobic TMAO respiration and CT production. TMAO reductase is transported to the periplasm via the twin arginine transport (TAT) system. A similar defect in both anaerobic TMAO respiration and CT production was also observed in a N16961 TAT mutant. In contrast, the abilities to grow on TMAO and to produce CT were not affected in a mutant of the general secretion pathway. This suggests that V. cholerae may utilize the TAT system to secrete CT during TMAO respiration. During anaerobic growth with TMAO, N16961 cells exhibit green fluorescence when stained with 2′,7′-dichlorofluorescein diacetate, a specific dye for reactive oxygen species (ROS). Furthermore, CT production was decreased in the presence of an ROS scavenger suggesting a positive role of ROS in regulating CT production. When TMAO was co-administered to infant mice infected with N16961, the mice exhibited more severe pathogenic symptoms. Together, our results reveal a novel anaerobic growth condition that stimulates V. cholerae to produce its major virulence factor.