Photorhabdus is a genus of entomopathogenic Gram-negative bacteria that belong to the family Enterobactericeae. Remarkably, at the same time as being pathogenic to insect larvae, Photorhabdus also have a mutualistic relationship with entomophagous nematodes of the family Heterorhabditiae. Photorhabdus can be isolated in two phenotypically distinct forms, termed the primary and secondary variant. Both variants grow equally well and are equally virulent when injected into insect larvae. However, only the primary variant can colonize the intestinal tract of the IJ stage of the nematode and support nematode growth and development. The primary variant expresses several phenotypes that are absent from the secondary variant, including the production of extracellular enzymes, pigments, antibiotics and light. In this study, we use Photorhabdus temperata strain K122 to show that these primary-specific products are symbiosis factors, i.e. factors that are required for nematode growth and development. We also show that, in P. temperata K122, the production of these symbiosis factors is repressed in the secondary variant by the protein encoded by a gene with homology to hexA from Erwinia. Moreover, the derepression of the symbiosis factors in the secondary variant results in a significant attenuation of virulence to larvae of the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. This suggests that, during a normal infection, pathogenicity and symbiosis must be temporally separated and that HexA is involved in the regulation of this pathogen-symbiont transition.
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