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Westbye, Alexander B.; Kater, Lukas; Wiesmann, Christina; Ding, Hao; Yip, Calvin K.; Beatty, J. Thomas (2018): The Protease ClpXP and the PAS Domain Protein DivL Regulate CtrA and Gene Transfer Agent Production in Rhodobacter capsulatus. In: Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Vol. 84, No. 11
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Abstract

Several members of the Rhodobacterales (Alphaproteobacteria) produce a conserved horizontal gene transfer vector, called the gene transfer agent (GTA), that appears to have evolved from a bacteriophage. The model system used to study GTA biology is the Rhodobacter capsulatus GTA (RcGTA), a small, tailed bacteriophage-like particle produced by a subset of the cells in a culture. The response regulator CtrA is conserved in the Alphaproteobacteria and is an essential regulator of RcGTA production: it controls the production and maturation of the RcGTA particle and RcGTA release from cells. CtrA also controls the natural transformation-like system required for cells to receive RcGTA-donated DNA. Here, we report that dysregulation of the CckA-ChpT-CtrA phosphorelay either by the loss of the PAS domain protein DivL or by substitution of the autophosphorylation residue of the hybrid histidine kinase CckA decreased CtrA phosphorylation and greatly increased RcGTA protein production in R. capsulatus. We show that the loss of the ClpXP protease or the three C-terminal residues of CtrA results in increased CtrA levels in R. capsulatus and identify ClpX(P) to be essential for the maturation of RcGTA particles. Furthermore, we show that CtrA phosphorylation is important for head spike production. Our results provide novel insight into the regulation of CtrA and GTAs in the Rhodobacterales. IMPORTANCE Members of the Rhodobacterales are abundant in ocean and freshwater environments. The conserved GTA produced by many Rhodobacterales may have an important role in horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in aquatic environments and provide a significant contribution to their adaptation. GTA production is controlled by bacterial regulatory systems, including the conserved CckA-ChpT-CtrA phosphorelay;however, several questions about GTA regulation remain. Our identification that a short DivL homologue and ClpXP regulate CtrA in R. capsulatus extends the model of CtrA regulation from Caulobacter crescentus to a member of the Rhodobacterales. We found that the magnitude of RcGTA production greatly depends on DivL and CckA kinase activity, adding yet another layer of regulatory complexity to RcGTA. RcGTA is known to undergo CckA-dependent maturation, and we extend the understanding of this process by showing that the ClpX chaperone is required for formation of tailed, DNA-containing particles.