A barrier for horizontal gene transfer is high gene expression, which is metabolically expensive. Silencing of horizontally-acquired genes in the bacterium Escherichia coli is caused by the global transcriptional repressor H-NS. The activity of H-NS is enhanced or diminished by other proteins including its homologue StpA, and Hha and YdgT. The interconnections of H-NS with these regulators and their role in silencing gene expression in E. coli are not well understood on a genomic scale. In this study, we use transcriptome sequencing to show that there is a bi-layered gene silencing system - involving the homologous H-NS and StpA - operating on horizontally-acquired genes among others. We show that H-NS-repressed genes belong to two types, termed "epistatic" and "unilateral". In the absence of H-NS, the expression of "epistatically controlled genes" is repressed by StpA, whereas that of "unilaterally controlled genes" is not. Epistatic genes show a higher tendency to be non-essential and recently acquired, when compared to unilateral genes. Epistatic genes reach much higher expression levels than unilateral genes in the absence of the silencing system. Finally, epistatic genes contain more high affinity H-NS binding motifs than unilateral genes. Therefore, both the DNA binding sites of H-NS as well as the function of StpA as a backup system might be selected for silencing highly transcribable genes.
Staphylococcus aureus is a major human pathogen, first recognized as a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. Community-associated S. aureus (CA-SA) pose a greater threat due to increase in severity of infection and disease among children and healthy adults. CA-SA strains in India are genetically diverse, among which is the sequence type (ST) 772, which has now spread to Australia, Europe and Japan. Towards understanding the genetic characteristics of ST772, we obtained draft genome sequences of five relevant clinical isolates and studied the properties of their PVL-carrying prophages, whose presence is a defining hallmark of CA-SA. We show that this is a novel prophage, which carries the structural genes of the hlb-carrying prophage and includes the sea enterotoxin. This architecture probably emerged early within the ST772 lineage, at least in India. The sea gene, unique to ST772 PVL, despite having promoter sequence characteristics typical of low expression, appears to be highly expressed during early phase of growth in laboratory conditions. We speculate that this might be a consequence of its novel sequence context. The crippled nature of the hlb-converting prophage in ST772 suggests that widespread mobility of the sea enterotoxin might be a selective force behind its transfer to the PVL prophage. Wild type ST772 strains induced strong proliferative responses as well as high cytotoxic activity against neutrophils, likely mediated by superantigen SEA and the PVL toxin respectively. Both proliferation and cytotoxicity were markedly reduced in a cured ST772 strain indicating the impact of the phage on virulence. The presence of SEA alongside the genes for the immune system-modulating PVL toxin may contribute to the success and virulence of ST772.
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