Structural biology of Vibrio cholerae pathogenicity factors
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The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 30,000 children under the age of five die each day worldwide. Around a quarter of these die from diarrheal disease caused by microbial infection. In addition to this high mortality rate, there are data emerging on the morbidity effects of diarrheal disease, for example a few episodes of diarrhea in the first two years of life can remove 10 IQ points and lead to growth deficiency. Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of the diarrheal disease cholera, is a serious problem in third world countries, where sanitary and hygiene infrastructure is very poor, and claims several thousand lives every year. In order to better understand the pathogenicity regulation in V. cholerae, structural and functional investigations of a hypothetical protein family present in pathogenicity islands and a transcriptional regulator protein for DNA-binding were investigated. Two adjacent genes, vc1804 and vc1805, encode hypothetical proteins within the Vibrio pathogenicity island-2 (VPI-2) of Vibrio cholerae, and are part of a cluster of genes only present in pathogenic strains of the bacterium. Paralogous adjacent genes, vc0508 and vc0509, are also present within a second pathogenicity island, the Vibrio seventh pandemic island-2 (VSP-2), of V. cholerae O1 El Tor and O139 serogroup isolates. Sequence similarity suggests that the VC0508, VC0509, VC1804 and VC1805 proteins will share a similar fold. The crystal structures of VC0508, VC0509 and VC1805 have been determined to a resolution of 1.9, 2.4 and 2.1 Å, respectively. Several recombinant constructs of vc1804 were made, but no soluble proteins were expressed. This hypothetical protein family reveals structural homology to human mitochondrial protein p32. Human p32 is a promiscuous protein known to bind to a variety of partners including the globular head component of C1q. We have shown that VC1805 binds to C1q. One possibility is that VC1805 is involved in adherence of the bacterium to membrane-bound C1q in the gut. To explore the roles of VC0508, VC0509, VC1804 and VC1805 in vivo, gene knockout and animal model studies of those proteins are underway. The ferric uptake regulator (Fur), a metal-dependent DNA-binding protein, acts as both a repressor and activator of numerous genes involved in maintaining iron homeostasis in bacteria. It has also been demonstrated in Vibrio cholerae that Fur plays an additional role in pathogenesis, and this opens up the potential of Fur as a drug target for cholera. The first crystal structure of a Fur protein, from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, revealed a dimeric molecule with each monomer containing a dimerization domain, a helical DNA-binding domain and two metal binding sites: Zn1 is proposed to be a regulatory Fe-binding site, and Zn2 is proposed to be a structural Zn-binding site. Here we present the crystal structure of V. cholerae Fur (VcFur) that reveals a very different orientation of the DNA-binding domains. Accompanying these structural changes are alterations in the amino acids coordinating the zinc at the Zn2 site, and this lends support to this being the site regulated by iron. There is no evidence of metal binding to the cysteines that are conserved in many Fur homologues, including the much-studied E. coli Fur. An analysis of the metal binding properties shows that like other Fur proteins, VcFur can be activated by a range of divalent metals. EPR spectroscopy measurements of the movements of the DNA-binding domain, in the presence of DNA and different metals, are underway.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy