Genetic characterization of the HrpL regulon of the fire blight pathogen Erwinia amylovora reveals novel virulence factors

R. Ryan McNally, Ian K. Toth, Peter J A Cock, Leighton Pritchard, Pete E. Hedley, Jenny A. Morris, Youfu Zhao, George W. Sundin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The bacterial pathogen Erwinia amylovora is the causal agent of fire blight, an economically significant disease of apple and pear. Disease initiation by E. amylovora requires the translocation of effector proteins into host cells via the hypersensitive response and pathogenicity (hrp) type III secretion system (T3SS). The alternative sigma factor HrpL positively regulates the transcription of structural and translocated components of the T3SS via hrp promoter elements. To characterize genome-wide HrpL-dependent gene expression in E. amylovora Ea1189, wild-type and Ea1189ΔhrpL strains were cultured in hrp-inducing minimal medium, and total RNA was compared using a custom microarray designed to represent the annotated genes of E. amylovora ATCC 49946. The results revealed 24 genes differentially regulated in Ea1189ΔhrpL relative to Ea1189 with fold-change expression ratios greater than 1.5; of these, 19 genes exhibited decreased transcript abundance and five genes showed increased transcript abundance relative to Ea1189. To expand our understanding of the HrpL regulon and to elucidate direct versus indirect HrpL-mediated effects on gene expression, the genome of E. amylovora ATCC 49946 was examined insilico using a hidden Markov model assembled from known Erwinia spp. hrp promoters. This technique identified 15 putative type III novel hrp promoters, seven of which were validated with quantitative polymerase chain reaction based on expression analyses. It was found that HrpL-regulated genes encode all known components of the hrp T3SS, as well as five putative type III effectors. Eight genes displayed apparent indirect HrpL regulation, suggesting that the HrpL regulon is connected to downstream signalling networks. The construction of deletion mutants of three novel HrpL-regulated genes resulted in the identification of additional virulence factors as well as mutants displaying abnormal motility and biofilm phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-173
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Plant Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


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