Title page for ETD etd-07132009-120252

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Schu, Daniel Joseph
Author's Email Address dschu@vt.edu
URN etd-07132009-120252
Title Structure/Function Analysis of the Quorum-sensing Regulator EsaR from the Plant Pathogen Pantoea stewartii
Degree PhD
Department Biology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Stevens, Ann M. Committee Chair
Jelesko, John G. Committee Member
Popham, David L. Committee Member
Schubot, Florian D. Committee Member
Vinatzer, Boris A. Committee Member
  • activator
  • Pantoea stewartii subsp. stewartii
  • quorum sensing
  • autoinducer responsiveness
  • EsaR
Date of Defense 2009-06-22
Availability restricted
Pantoea stewartii subsp. stewarti is the causative agent of Stewart’s wilt disease in maize. Disease symptoms develop after the bacteria grow to high cell densities in the plant xylem and secrete an abundance of exopolysaccharide (EPS). EPS production is regulated by quorum sensing. Two regulatory proteins are key to the process of quorum sensing, the LuxI and LuxR homologues EsaI and EsaR. Most LuxR homologues function as activators of transcription in the presence of their cognate acylated homoserine lactone signal (AHL). EsaR utilizes an AHL-response opposite of the majority of the LuxR homologues. EsaR represses EPS production at low cell densities. However, at high cell densities when high concentrations of AHL are present, EsaR is inactivated and derepression of EPS production occurs. The mechanism that enables EsaR to respond to AHL in a manner opposite to that of most LuxR homologues remains elusive. A comparative study of EsaR and the well characterized quorum-sensing regulators LuxR from Vibrio fischeri and TraR from Agrobacterium tumefaciens was initiated. Previous studies demonstrated that in the absence of AHL, EsaR retains the ability to function as a weak activator of the lux operon in recombinant Escherichia coli. This thesis research further characterized the role of EsaR as an activator. Variant forms of EsaR with deletions or single residue substitutions were generated and their ability to regulate transcription was examined in vivo. Furthermore, a native EsaR-activated promoter has been identified, which controls expression of a putative regulatory sRNA in P. stewartii.

It is apparent that EsaR functions as a transcription factor at low concentrations of AHL as demonstrated by its ability to inhibit EPS production. At high concentrations, the AHL appears to bind and cause a conformational shift in the protein leading to its inactivation. The second goal of this study was to further elucidate the mechanism by which AHL regulates EsaR. Pulse-chase experiments demonstrated that EsaR is resistant to proteases with or without AHL in vivo. Limited proteolytic digestions in vitro suggest that the protein does undergo conformational changes in response to AHL. Gel filtration chromatography, sucrose gradient ultracentrifugation, and cross-linking experiments proved that this conformational change does not impact the multimeric state of EsaR.

To better understand the mechanism of regulation by AHL, the final goal of this project was to examine the interactions which result in EsaR-responsiveness to AHL. Several individual amino acid substitutions were identified that cause EsaR to function in an AHL-independent manner, by which variants retain the ability to bind and block gene expression in the presence of AHL. These residues have been mapped onto a homology model of EsaR and their role has been examined in vitro. The ability of these EsaR* variants to bind AHL and an analysis of the effects individual mutations have on the overall conformation of the protein was performed.

Overall this study has revealed several unique aspects of the quorum-sensing system in P. stewartii whereby gene expression is regulated at both low and high cell density. Studies were also initiated to examine the mechanism of AHL-responsiveness of EsaR. The mechanism by which AHL modulates most LuxR homologues remains elusive. The ability to purify EsaR +/- its cognate AHL may prove critical in elucidating this mechanism.

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