Capsule gene regulation in Bacillus anthracis and implications for virulence

Melissa Faith Drysdale, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The poly-D-glutamic acid capsule of Bacillus anthracis is considered essential for lethal anthrax disease. Yet investigations of capsule function have been limited primarily to attenuated B. anthracis strains lacking certain genetic elements. In work presented in this thesis, I constructed and characterized a genetically complete (pXO1 + pXO2+) B. anthracis strain (UT500) and isogenic mutants deleted for two previously identified capsule gene regulators, atxA and acpA, and a newly-identified regulator, acpB. Results of transcriptional analysis and microscopy revealed that atxA controls expression of the first gene of the capsule biosynthesis operon, capB, via positive transcriptional regulation of acpA and acpB. acpA and acpB appear to be partial functional homologs. Deletion of either gene alone has little effect on capsule synthesis. However, a mutant deleted for both acpA and acpB is noncapsulated. Thus, in contrast to previously published models, my results suggest that atxA is the master regulator of cap gene expression in a genetically complete strain. A detailed transcriptional analysis of capB and the regulatory genes was performed to establish the effects of the regulators and CO2/bicarbonate on specific mRNAs of target genes. CO2/bicarbonate is a well-established signal for B. anthracis capsule synthesis in culture. Taqman RT-PCR results indicated that growth in the presence of elevated CO2 greatly increased expression of acpA, acpB and capB but not atxA. 5′ end mapping of capB and acpA revealed atxA-regulated and atxA-independent transcriptional start sites for both genes. All atxA-regulated start sites were also CO2-regulated. A single atxA-independent start site was identified 5 ′ of acpB. However, RT-PCR analysis indicated that capD and acpB are co-transcribed. Thus, it is likely that atxA-mediated control of acpB expression occurs via transcriptional activation of the atxA-regulated start sites of capB. Finally, I examined the contribution of the B. anthracis capsule to virulence. The virulence of the parent strain, mutants deleted for the capsule biosynthesis genes ( capBCAD), and mutants missing the capsule regulator genes was compared using a mouse model for inhalation anthrax. The data indicate that in this model, capsule is essential for virulence. Mice survived infection with the noncapsulated capBCAD and acpA acpB mutants. These mutants initiated germination in the lung, but did not disseminate to the spleen. The acpA mutant had an LD50 value similar to the parent strain and was able to disseminate and cause lethal infection. Unexpectedly, the acpB mutant had a higher LD 50 and a reduced ability to disseminate. During in vitro culture, the acpB single mutant produces capsule and toxin similar to the parent strain. It is likely that acpB regulates the expression of downstream genes that contribute to the virulence of B. anthracis.

Subject Area

Microbiology|Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Drysdale, Melissa Faith, "Capsule gene regulation in Bacillus anthracis and implications for virulence" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3131485.