The Journal of biological chemistry

Cholera toxin production during anaerobic trimethylamine N-oxide respiration is mediated by stringent response in Vibrio cholerae.

PMID 24648517


As a facultative anaerobe, Vibrio cholerae can grow by anaerobic respiration. Production of cholera toxin (CT), a major virulence factor of V. cholerae, is highly promoted during anaerobic growth using trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) as an alternative electron acceptor. Here, we investigated the molecular mechanisms of TMAO-stimulated CT production and uncovered the crucial involvement of stringent response in this process. V. cholerae 7th pandemic strain N16961 produced a significantly elevated level of ppGpp, the bacterial stringent response alarmone, during anaerobic TMAO respiration. Bacterial viability was impaired, and DNA replication was also affected under the same growth condition, further suggesting that stringent response is induced. A ΔrelA ΔspoT ppGpp overproducer strain produced an enhanced level of CT, whereas anaerobic growth via TMAO respiration was severely inhibited. In contrast, a ppGpp-null strain (ΔrelA ΔspoT ΔrelV) grew substantially better, but produced no CT, suggesting that CT production and bacterial growth are inversely regulated in response to ppGpp accumulation. Bacterial capability to produce CT was completely lost when the dksA gene, which encodes a protein that works cooperatively with ppGpp, was deleted. In the ΔdksA mutant, stringent response growth inhibition was alleviated, further supporting the inverse regulation of CT production and anaerobic growth. In vivo virulence of ΔrelA ΔspoT ΔrelV or ΔdksA mutants was significantly attenuated. The ΔrelA ΔspoT mutant maintained virulence when infected with exogenous TMAO despite its defective growth. Together, our results reveal that stringent response is activated under TMAO-stimulated anaerobic growth, and it regulates CT production in a growth-dependent manner in V. cholerae.