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BMC Microbiology








Background: Certain strains of an obligate parasite of the human upper respiratory tract, nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), can cause invasive diseases such as septicemia and meningitis, as well as chronic mucosal infections such as otitis media. To do this, the organism must invade and survive within both epithelial and endothelial cells. We have identified a facilitator of NT(Hi) survival inside human cells, virulence-associated protein D (vapDHi, encoded by gene H10450). Both vapDHi and a flanking gene, H10451, exhibit the genetic and physical characteristics of a toxin/antitoxin ( TA) locus, with VapDHi serving as the toxin moiety and H10451 as the antitoxin. We propose the name VapXHi for the H10451 antitoxin protein. Originally identified on plasmids, TA loci have been found on the chromosomes of a number of bacterial pathogens, and have been implicated in the control of translation during stressful conditions. Translation arrest would enhance survival within human cells and facilitate persistent or chronic mucosal infections.

Results: Isogenic mutants in vapDHi were attenuated for survival inside human respiratory epithelial cells (NCI-H292) and human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMEC), the in vitro models of mucosal infection and the blood-brain barrier, respectively. Transcomplementation with a vapDHi allele restored wild-type NTHi survival within both cell lines. A PCR survey of 59 H. influenzae strains isolated from various anatomical sites determined the presence of a vapDHi allele in 100% of strains. Two isoforms of the gene were identified in this population; one that was 91 residues in length, and another that was truncated to 45 amino acids due to an in-frame deletion. The truncated allele failed to transcomplement the NTHi vapDHi survival defect in HBMEC. Subunits of full-length VapDHi homodimerized, but subunits of the truncated protein did not. However, truncated protein subunits did interact with full-length subunits, and this interaction resulted in a dominant-negative phenotype. Although Escherichia coli does not contain a homologue of either vapDHi or vapXHi, overexpression of the VapDHi toxin in trans resulted in E. coli cell growth arrest. This arrest could be rescued by providing the VapXHi antitoxin on a compatible plasmid.

Conclusion: We conclude that vapDHi and vapXHi may constitute a H. influenzae TA locus that functions to enhance NTHi survival within human epithelial and endothelial cells.

Original Publication Citation

Daines, D. A., Jarisch, J., & Smith, A. L. (2004). Identification and characterization of a nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae putative toxin-antitoxin locus. BMC Microbiology, 4(1), 30. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-4-30


0000-0002-9610-436X (Daines)

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