GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology


Microbiology and Physiological Systems

First Thesis Advisor

Jon D. Goguen


Bacterial Proteins, Yersinia pestis


The lcrF gene of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, encodes a transcription activator responsible for inducing expression of several virulence-related proteins (Yops) in response to temperature. The mechanism of this thermoregulation was investigated. Using a yopE::lacZ reporter fusion, lcrF-mediated thermal regulation was observed in Y. pestis and Escherichia coli. The lcrF gene was sequenced, the 30.8 kDa. LcrF protein identified and purified, and LcrF-dependent yopE-specific DNA binding activity was detected. A sequence similarity search revealed that LcrF exhibits 98% homology to VirF of Yersinia enterocolitica and significant homology to the carboxy termini of other members of the AraC family of transcription activators. During localization studies, a significant proportion of LcrF was found associated with the membrane fraction in E. coli. However, pulse-chase experiments indicated that this result is an artifact of fractionation. lcrF-mediated thermal induction of the yopE::lacZ reporter fusion remains intact in a Shigella flexneri virR mutant. The virR mutation is known to affect thermal induction of Shigellavirulence genes, which are also controlled by an activator in the AraC family.

As a first step toward identifying the temperature-sensitive step in the regulation of yop expression, lcrF::lacZ transcriptional fusions were constructed and analyzed in Y. pestis and E. coli. The activity of the fusions was not affected by the native pCD1 virulence plasmid, an intact lcrF gene, or temperature. Thus, induction of lcrF transcription is not essential for temperature-dependent activation of yopE transcription. To confirm these results, attempts were made to identify both the native lcrF message in Y. pestis, and a lcrF-lacZ hybrid message in Y. pestis and E. coli. These attempts were unsuccessful. Examination of LcrF protein production revealed temperature-dependent expression in Y. pestis. Surprisingly, high-level T7 polymerase-directed transcription of the lcrF gene in Escherichia coli also resulted in temperature-dependent production of the LcrF protein. Pulse-chase experiments showed that the LcrF protein was stable at both 26 and 37°C, suggesting that translation rate or message degradation is thermally controlled. Comparison of the amount of LcrF protein produced per unit of message at 26 and 37°C in E. coli indicated that the efficiency of translation of lcrF message increased with temperature. mRNA secondary structure predictions suggest that the lcrF Shine-Dalgarno sequence is sequestered in a stem-loop. A model in which decreased stability of this stem-loop with increasing temperature leads to increased efficiency of translation initiation of lcrF message is presented.



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