Small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are emerging as key post-transcriptional regulators in many bacteria. In the human pathobiont Helicobacter pylori a plethora of trans- and cis-encoded sRNAs have been pinpointed by a global transcriptome study. However, only two have been studied in depth at the functional level. Here we report the characterization of CncR1, an abundant and conserved sRNA encoded by the virulence-associated cag pathogenicity island (cag-PAI) of H. pylori. Growth-phase dependent transcription of CncR1 is directed by the PcagP promoter, which resulted to be a target of the essential transcriptional regulator HsrA (HP1043). We demonstrate that the 213 nt transcript arising from this promoter ends at an intrinsic terminator, few bases upstream of the annotated cagP open reading frame, establishing CncR1 as the predominant gene product encoded by the cagP (cag15) locus. Interestingly, the deletion of the locus resulted in the deregulation en masse of σ54-dependent genes, linking CncR1 to flagellar functions. Accordingly, the enhanced motility recorded for cncR1 deletion mutants was complemented by ectopic reintroduction of the allele in trans. In silico prediction identified fliK, encoding a flagellar checkpoint protein, as likely regulatory target of CncR1. The interaction of CncR1 with the fliK mRNA was thus further investigated in vitro, demonstrating the formation of strand-specific interactions between the two RNA molecules. Accordingly, the full-length translational fusions of fliK with a lux reporter gene were induced in a cncR1 deletion mutant in vivo. These data suggest the involvement of CncR1 in the post-transcriptional modulation of H. pylori motility functions through down-regulation of a critical flagellar checkpoint factor. Concurrently, the cncR1 mutant revealed a decrease of transcript levels for several H. pylori adhesins, resulting in a phenotypically significant impairment of bacterial adhesion to a host gastric cell line. The data presented support a model in which the cag-PAI encoded CncR1 sRNA is able to oppositely modulate bacterial motility and adhesion to host cells.
ncRNA Post-transcriptional regulation RNA–RNA interaction fliK HsrA Type IV secretion system (T4SS) Flagellar checkpoint
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The authors wish to thank Vincenzo Scarlato scientific advice, editing and critical reading of the manuscript, Paola Pisacane for skillful participation in the preliminary phase of the project, and Silvia Ferrara and Giovanni Bertoni (University of Milan) for their helpful advices on the RNA–RNA EMSA experiment. This work was supported by a Grant from the Italian Ministry of Education and University (2010P3S8BR_003) and by the University of Bologna.
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