Phosphate starvation: A novel signal that triggers ESX-5 secretion in Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Sarah R. Elliott, Anna D. Tischler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Mycobacterium tuberculosis uses the Type VII ESX secretion systems to transport proteins across its complex cell wall. ESX-5 has been implicated in M. tuberculosis virulence, but the regulatory mechanisms controlling ESX-5 secretion were unknown. Here we uncover a link between ESX-5 and the Pst/SenX3-RegX3 system that controls gene expression in response to phosphate availability. The DNA-binding response regulator RegX3 is normally activated by phosphate limitation. Deletion of pstA1, which encodes a Pst phosphate uptake system component, causes constitutive activation of RegX3. A ΔpstA1 mutant exhibited RegX3-dependent overexpression of esx-5 genes and hyper-secretion of the ESX-5 substrates EsxN and PPE41 when the bacteria were grown in phosphate-rich medium. In wild-type M. tuberculosis, phosphate limitation activated esx-5 transcription and secretion of both EsxN and PPE41, and this response required RegX3. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that RegX3 binds directly to a promoter within the esx-5 locus. Remarkably, phosphate limitation also induced secretion of EsxB, an effector of the virulence-associated ESX-1 secretion system, though this induction was RegX3 independent. Our work demonstrates that the Pst/SenX3-RegX3 system directly regulates ESX-5 secretion at the transcriptional level in response to phosphate availability and defines phosphate limitation as an environmental signal that activates ESX-5 secretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-526
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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