ATXA-dependent gene expression in Bacillus anthracis

Alex R Hoffmaster, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The Bacillus anthracis toxin genes, cya, lef , and pag, can be viewed as a regulon, in which transcription of all three genes is activated in trans by the same regulatory gene, atxA, in response to the same signal, CO2. I determined that several phenotypes are associated with the atxA gene. In addition to being toxin-deficient, an atxA -null mutant grows poorly on minimal media and sporulates early compared to the parent strain. Furthermore, an atxA-null mutant has an altered 2-D gel protein profile. I used a genetic approach to find additional atxA-regulated genes. Random transcriptional lacZ fusions were generated in B. anthracis using transposon Tn 917-LTV3. Transposon-insertion libraries were screened for mutants expressing increased β-galactosidase activity in 5% CO2. Introduction of an atxA-null mutation in these mutants revealed that 79% of the CO2-regulated fusions were also atxA-dependent. DNA sequence analysis of transposon insertion sites in mutants carrying CO 2/atxA-regulated fusions revealed ten mutants harboring transposon insertions in loci distinct from the toxin genes. The majority of the tcr (toxin co-regulated) loci mapped within the pXO1 pathogenicity island. These results indicate a clear association of atxA with CO2-enhanced gene expression in B. anthracis and provide evidence that atxA regulates genes other than the structural genes for the anthrax toxin proteins. Characterization of one tcr locus revealed a new regulatory gene, pagR. The pagR gene (300 nt) is located downstream of pag. pagR is cotranscribed with pag and is responsible for autogenous control of the operon. pagR also represses expression of cya and lef. Repression of toxin gene expression by pagR may be mediated by atxA. The steady state level of atxA mRNA is increased in a pagR mutant. Recombinant PagR protein purified from Escherichia coli did not specifically bind the promoter regions of pagA or atxA. An unidentified factor in B. anthracis crude extracts, however, was able to bind the atxA promoter in the absence of PagR or AtxA. These investigations increase our knowledge of virulence regulation in B. anthracis and ultimately will lead to a better understanding of anthrax disease.

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Recommended Citation

Hoffmaster, Alex R, "ATXA-dependent gene expression in Bacillus anthracis" (1999). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9929378.