FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 369 (1) - [2022-06-22; online 2022-05-07]
Shigella spp, the etiological agents of bacillary dysentery in humans, have evolved an intricate regulatory strategy to ensure fine-tuned expression of virulence genes in response to environmental stimuli. A key component in this regulation is VirF, an AraC-like transcription factor, which at the host temperature (37°C) triggers, directly or indirectly, the expression of > 30 virulence genes important for invasion of the intestinal epithelium. Previous work identified two different forms of VirF with distinct functions: VirF30 activates virulence gene expression, while VirF21 appears to negatively regulate virF itself. Moreover, VirF21 originates from either differential translation of the virF mRNA or from a shorter leaderless mRNA (llmRNA). Here we report that both expression of the virF21 llmRNA and the VirF21:VirF30 protein ratio are higher at 30°C than at 37°C, suggesting a possible involvement of VirF21 in minimizing virulence gene expression outside the host (30°C). Ectopic elevation of VirF21 levels at 37°C indeed suppresses Shigella´s ability to infect epithelial cells. Finally, we find that the VirF21 C-terminal portion, predicted to contain a Helix-Turn-Helix motif (HTH2), is required for the functionality of this negative virulence regulator.