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Maria Hadjifrangiskou

Advisor: Theresa Koehler, Ph.D.

Accepted post-doctoral position at Washington University after receiving PhD
Now employed as Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, Vanderbilt University

Expression of the structural genes for the anthrax toxin proteins is coordinately controlled by host-related signals such as elevated CO2, and the trans-acting positive regulator, AtxA. No specific binding of AtxA to the toxin gene promoters has been demonstrated and no sequence-based similarities are apparent in the promoter regions of toxin genes. We hypothesized that the toxin genes possess common structural features that are required for positive regulation. To test this hypothesis, I performed an extensive characterization of the toxin gene promoters. I determined the minimal sequences required for atxA-mediated toxin gene expression and compared these sequences for structural similarities. In silico modeling and in vitro experiments indicated significant curvature within these regions. Random mutagenesis revealed that point mutations associated with reduced transcriptional activity, mostly mapped to areas of high curvature. This work enabled the identification of two potential cis-acting elements implicated in AtxA-mediated regulation of the toxin genes. In addition to the growth condition requirements and AtxA, toxin gene expression is under growth phase regulation. The transition state regulator AbrB represses atxA expression to influence toxin synthesis. Here I report that toxin gene expression also requires sigH, a gene encoding the RNA polymerase sigma factor associated with development in B. subtilis. In the well-studied B. subtilis system, sH is part of a feedback control pathway that involves abrB and the major response regulator of sporulation initiation, spo0A. My data indicate that in B. anthracis regulatory relationships exist between these developmental regulators and atxA. Interestingly, during growth in toxin-inducing conditions, sigH and abrB expression deviates from that described for B. subtilis, affecting expression of the atxA gene. These findings, combined with previous observations, suggest that the steady state level of atxA expression is critical for optimal toxin gene transcription. We propose a model whereby, under toxin-inducing conditions, control of toxin gene expression is fine-tuned by the independent effects of the developmental regulators on the expression of atxA. The growth condition-dependent changes in expression of these regulators may be crucial for the correct timing and uninterrupted expression of the toxin genes during infection.

Search pubmed for papers by M. Hadjifrangiskou and T. Koehler

Research Info

Cis-acting elements and developmental regulators govern toxin gene expression in Bacillus anthracis