Three pathogenicity islands of Vibrio cholerae can excise from the chromosome and form circular intermediates

  • Murphy R
  • Boyd E
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Vibrio pathogenicity island-2 (VPI-2) is a 57-kb region integrated at a transfer RNA (tRNA)-serine locus that encompasses VC1758 to VC1809 on the V. cholerae N16961 genome and is present in pandemic isolates. VPI-2 encodes a P4-like integrase, a restriction modification system, a Mu phage-like region, and a sialic acid metabolism region, as well as neuraminidase (VC1784), which is a glycosylhydrolase known to release sialic acid from sialoglycoconjugates to unmask GM1 gangliosides, the receptor for cholera toxin. We examined the tRNA-serine locus among the sequenced V. cholerae genomes and identified five variant VPI-2 regions, four of which retained the sialometabolism region. Three variant VPI-2 regions contained a type three secretion system. By using an inverse nested PCR approach, we found that the VPI-2 region can form an extrachromosomal circular intermediate (CI) molecule after precise excision from its tRNA-serine attachment site. We constructed a knockout mutant of VC1758 (int) with V. cholerae strain N16961 and found that no excision PCR product was produced, indicating that a functional cognate, VPI-2 integrase, is required for excision. The Vibrio seventh pandemic island-I (VSP-I) and VSP-II regions are present in V. cholerae O1 El Tor and O139 serogroup isolates. Novel regions are present at the VSP-I insertion site in strain MZO-3 and at the VSP-II insertion site in strain 623-39. VSP-II is a 27-kb region that integrates at a tRNA-methionine locus, is flanked by direct repeats, and encodes a P4-like integrase. We show that VSP-II can excise and form a CI and that the cognate VSP-II integrase is required for excision. Interestingly, VSP-I is not inserted at a tRNA locus and does encode a XerDC-like recombinase, but similar to VPI-2 and VSP-II, VSP-I does excise from the genome to form a CI. These results show that all three pathogenicity islands can excise from the chromosome, which is likely a first step in their horizontal transfer.

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  • Ronan A. Murphy

  • E. Fidelma Boyd

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