Infection and immunity

Serratia marcescens ShlA pore-forming toxin is responsible for early induction of autophagy in host cells and is transcriptionally regulated by RcsB.

PMID 24914224


Serratia marcescens is a Gram-negative bacterium that thrives in a wide variety of ambient niches and interacts with an ample range of hosts. As an opportunistic human pathogen, it has increased its clinical incidence in recent years, being responsible for life-threatening nosocomial infections. S. marcescens produces numerous exoproteins with toxic effects, including the ShlA pore-forming toxin, which has been catalogued as its most potent cytotoxin. However, the regulatory mechanisms that govern ShlA expression, as well as its action toward the host, have remained unclear. We have shown that S. marcescens elicits an autophagic response in host nonphagocytic cells. In this work, we determine that the expression of ShlA is responsible for the autophagic response that is promoted prior to bacterial internalization in epithelial cells. We show that a strain unable to express ShlA is no longer able to induce this autophagic mechanism, while heterologous expression of ShlA/ShlB suffices to confer on noninvasive Escherichia coli the capacity to trigger autophagy. We also demonstrate that shlBA harbors a binding motif for the RcsB regulator in its promoter region. RcsB-dependent control of shlBA constitutes a feed-forward regulatory mechanism that allows interplay with flagellar-biogenesis regulation. At the top of the circuit, activated RcsB downregulates expression of flagella by binding to the flhDC promoter region, preventing FliA-activated transcription of shlBA. Simultaneously, RcsB interaction within the shlBA promoter represses ShlA expression. This circuit offers multiple access points to fine-tune ShlA production. These findings also strengthen the case for an RcsB role in orchestrating the expression of Serratia virulence factors.