Loss of the cytochrome c maturation system in Bacillus cereus results in increased transcription of the major enterotoxin genes nhe, hbl, and cytK and the virulence regulator plcR. Increased virulence factor production occurs at 37°C under aerobic conditions, similar to previous findings in Bacillus anthracis. Unlike B. anthracis, much of the increased virulence gene expression can be attributed to loss of only c551, one of the two small c-type cytochromes. Additional virulence factor expression occurs with loss of resBC, encoding cytochrome c maturation proteins, independently of the presence of the c-type cytochrome genes. Hemolytic activity of strains missing either cccB or resBC is increased relative to that in the parental strain, while sporulation efficiency is unaffected in the mutants. Increased virulence gene expression in the ΔcccB and ΔresBC mutants occurs only in the presence of an intact plcR gene, indicating that this process is PlcR dependent. These findings suggest a new mode of regulation of B. cereus virulence and reveal intriguing similarities and differences in virulence regulation between B. cereus and B. anthracis.
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