Toxin production spontaneously becomes regulated by local cell density in evolving bacterial populations.
ABSTRACT: The production of anticompetitor toxins is widespread among bacteria. Because production of such toxins is costly, it is typically regulated. In particular, many toxins are produced only when the local cell density is high. It is unclear which selection pressures shaped the evolution of density-dependent regulation of toxin production. Here, we study the evolution of toxin production, resistance and the response to a cell-density cue in a model of an evolving bacterial population with spatial structure. We present results for two growth regimes: (i) an undisturbed, fixed habitat in which only small fluctuations of cell density occur, and (ii) a serial-transfer regime with large fluctuations in cell density. We find that density-dependent toxin production can evolve under both regimes. However, the selection pressures driving the evolution of regulation differ. In the fixed habitat, regulation evolves because it allows cells to produce toxin only when opportunities for reproduction are highly limited (because of a high local cell density), and the effective fitness costs of toxin production are hence low. Under serial transfers, regulation evolves because it allows cells to switch from a fast-growing non-toxic phenotype when colonising a new habitat, to a slower-growing competitive toxic phenotype when the cell density increases. Colonies of such regulating cells rapidly expand into unoccupied space because their edges consist of fast-growing, non-toxin-producing cells, but are also combative because cells at the interfaces with competing colonies do produce toxin. Because under the two growth regimes different types of regulation evolve, our results underscore the importance of growth conditions in the evolution of social behaviour in bacteria.
Project description:The virulence of many bacterial pathogens, including the important human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, depends on the secretion of frequently large amounts of toxins. Toxin production involves the need for the bacteria to make physiological adjustments for energy conservation. While toxins are primarily targets of gene regulation, such changes may be accomplished by regulatory functions of the toxins themselves. However, mechanisms by which toxins regulate gene expression have remained poorly understood. We show here that the staphylococcal phenol-soluble modulin (PSM) toxins have gene regulatory functions that, in particular, include inducing expression of their own transport system by direct interference with a GntR-type repressor protein. This capacity was most pronounced in PSMs with low cytolytic capacity, demonstrating functional specification among closely related members of that toxin family during evolution. Our study presents a molecular mechanism of gene regulation by a bacterial toxin that adapts bacterial physiology to enhanced toxin production. IMPORTANCE:Toxins play a major role in many bacterial diseases. When toxins are produced during infection, the bacteria need to balance this energy-consuming task with other physiological processes. However, it has remained poorly understood how toxins can impact gene expression to trigger such adaptations. We found that specific members of a toxin family in the major human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus have evolved for gene regulatory purposes. These specific toxins interact with a DNA-binding regulator protein to enable production of the toxin export machinery and ascertain that the machinery is not expressed when toxins are not made and it is not needed. Our study gives mechanistic insight into how toxins may directly adjust bacterial physiology to times of toxin production during infection.
Project description:The Bacillus thuringiensis ?-endotoxins (Bt toxins) are widely used insecticidal proteins in engineered crops that provide agricultural, economic, and environmental benefits. The development of insect resistance to Bt toxins endangers their long-term effectiveness. Here we have developed a phage-assisted continuous evolution selection that rapidly evolves high-affinity protein-protein interactions, and applied this system to evolve variants of the Bt toxin Cry1Ac that bind a cadherin-like receptor from the insect pest Trichoplusia ni (TnCAD) that is not natively bound by wild-type Cry1Ac. The resulting evolved Cry1Ac variants bind TnCAD with high affinity (dissociation constant Kd?=?11-41?nM), kill TnCAD-expressing insect cells that are not susceptible to wild-type Cry1Ac, and kill Cry1Ac-resistant T. ni insects up to 335-fold more potently than wild-type Cry1Ac. Our findings establish that the evolution of Bt toxins with novel insect cell receptor affinity can overcome insect Bt toxin resistance and confer lethality approaching that of the wild-type Bt toxin against non-resistant insects.
Project description:Toxin production in marine microalgae was previously shown to be tightly coupled with cellular stoichiometry. The highest values of cellular toxin are in fact mainly associated with a high carbon to nutrient cellular ratio. In particular, the cellular accumulation of C-rich toxins (i.e., with C:N > 6.6) can be stimulated by both N and P deficiency. Dinoflagellates are the main producers of C-rich toxins and may represent a serious threat for human health and the marine ecosystem. As such, the development of a numerical model able to predict how toxin production is stimulated by nutrient supply/deficiency is of primary utility for both scientific and management purposes. In this work we have developed a mechanistic model describing the stoichiometric regulation of C-rich toxins in marine dinoflagellates. To this purpose, a new formulation describing toxin production and fate was embedded in the European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model (ERSEM), here simplified to describe a monospecific batch culture. Toxin production was assumed to be composed by two distinct additive terms; the first is a constant fraction of algal production and is assumed to take place at any physiological conditions. The second term is assumed to be dependent on algal biomass and to be stimulated by internal nutrient deficiency. By using these assumptions, the model reproduced the concentrations and temporal evolution of toxins observed in cultures of Ostreopsis cf. ovata, a benthic/epiphytic dinoflagellate producing C-rich toxins named ovatoxins. The analysis of simulations and their comparison with experimental data provided a conceptual model linking toxin production and nutritional status in this species. The model was also qualitatively validated by using independent literature data, and the results indicate that our formulation can be also used to simulate toxin dynamics in other dinoflagellates. Our model represents an important step towards the simulation and prediction of marine algal toxicity.
Project description:Virulence of many bacterial pathogens, including the important human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, depends on the secretion of frequently high amounts of toxins. Toxin production involves the need for the bacteria to make physiological adjustments for energy conservation. While toxins are primarily known to be targets of gene regulation, such changes may be accomplished by regulatory functions of the toxins themselves. However, mechanisms by which toxins regulate gene expression have remained poorly understood. We show here that the phenol-soluble modulin toxins have gene regulatory functions, which in particular include regulation of their own export by direct interference with a GntR-type repressor protein. This capacity was most pronounced in PSMs with low cytolytic capacity, demonstrating functional specification among closely related members of that toxin family. Our study presents a paradigmatic example of how bacterial toxins may regulate gene expression to adapt to the physiological needs in situations of enhanced toxin production. Overall design: strain vs. different strain, 3 replicates
Project description:Tubastraea coccinea is an azooxanthellate coral species recorded in the Indian and Atlantic oceans and is presently widespread in the southwestern Atlantic with an alien status for Brazil. T. coccinea outcompete other native coral species by using a varied repertoire of biological traits. For example, T. coccinea has evolved potent venom capable of immobilizing and digesting zooplankton prey. Diversification and modification of venom toxins can provide potential adaptive benefits to individual fitness, yet acquired alteration of venom composition in cnidarians is poorly understood as the adaptive flexibility affecting toxin composition in these ancient lineages has been largely ignored. We used quantitative high-throughput proteomics to detect changes in toxin expression in clonal fragments of specimens collected and interchanged from two environmentally distinct and geographically separate study sites. Unexpectedly, despite global changes in protein expression, there were no changes in the composition and abundance of toxins from coral fragments recovered from either site, and following clonal transplantation between sites. There were also no apparent changes to the cnidome (cnidae) and gross skeletal or soft tissue morphologies of the specimens. These results suggest that the conserved toxin complexity of T. coccinea co-evolved with innovation of the venom delivery system, and its morphological development and phenotypic expression are not modulated by habitat pressures over short periods of time. The adaptive response of the venom trait to specific predatory regimes, however, necessitates further consideration.
Project description:To delay evolution of pest resistance to transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the "pyramid" strategy uses plants that produce two or more toxins that kill the same pest. In the United States, this strategy has been adopted widely, with two-toxin Bt cotton replacing one-toxin Bt cotton. Although two-toxin plants are likely to be more durable than one-toxin plants, the extent of this advantage depends on several conditions. One key assumption favoring success of two-toxin plants is that they kill insects selected for resistance to one toxin, which is called "redundant killing." Here we tested this assumption for a major pest, Helicoverpa zea, on transgenic cotton producing Bt toxins Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab. Selection with Cry1Ac increased survival on two-toxin cotton, which contradicts the assumption. The concentration of Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab declined during the growing season, which would tend to exacerbate this problem. Furthermore, analysis of results from 21 selection experiments with eight species of lepidopteran pests indicates that some cross-resistance typically occurs between Cry1A and Cry2A toxins. Incorporation of empirical data into simulation models shows that the observed deviations from ideal conditions could greatly reduce the benefits of the pyramid strategy for pests like H. zea, which have inherently low susceptibility to Bt toxins and have been exposed extensively to one of the toxins in the pyramid before two-toxin plants are adopted. For such pests, the pyramid strategy could be improved by incorporating empirical data on deviations from ideal assumptions about redundant killing and cross-resistance.
Project description:Snakebite envenoming is a serious condition requiring medical attention and administration of antivenom. Current antivenoms are antibody preparations obtained from the plasma of animals immunised with whole venom(s) and contain antibodies against snake venom toxins, but also against other antigens. In order to better understand the molecular interactions between antivenom antibodies and epitopes on snake venom toxins, a high-throughput immuno-profiling study on all manually curated toxins from Dendroaspis species and selected African Naja species was performed based on custom-made high-density peptide microarrays displaying linear toxin fragments. By detection of binding for three different antivenoms and performing an alanine scan, linear elements of epitopes and the positions important for binding were identified. A strong tendency of antivenom antibodies recognizing and binding to epitopes at the functional sites of toxins was observed. With these results, high-density peptide microarray technology is for the first time introduced in the field of toxinology and molecular details of the evolution of antibody-toxin interactions based on molecular recognition of distinctive toxic motifs are elucidated.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are formed by potent regulatory or suicide factors (toxins) and their short-lived inhibitors (antitoxins). Antitoxins are DNA-binding proteins and auto-repress transcription of TA operons. Transcription of multiple TA operons is activated in temporarily non-growing persister cells that can resist killing by antibiotics. Consequently, the antitoxin levels of persisters must have been dropped and toxins are released of inhibition. RESULTS: Here, we describe transcriptional cross-activation between different TA systems of Escherichia coli. We find that the chromosomal relBEF operon is activated in response to production of the toxins MazF, MqsR, HicA, and HipA. Expression of the RelE toxin in turn induces transcription of several TA operons. We show that induction of mazEF during amino acid starvation depends on relBE and does not occur in a relBEF deletion mutant. Induction of TA operons has been previously shown to depend on Lon protease which is activated by polyphospate accumulation. We show that transcriptional cross-activation occurs also in strains deficient for Lon, ClpP, and HslV proteases and polyphosphate kinase. Furthermore, we find that toxins cleave the TA mRNA in vivo, which is followed by degradation of the antitoxin-encoding fragments and selective accumulation of the toxin-encoding regions. We show that these accumulating fragments can be translated to produce more toxin. CONCLUSION: Transcriptional activation followed by cleavage of the mRNA and disproportionate production of the toxin constitutes a possible positive feedback loop, which can fire other TA systems and cause bistable growth heterogeneity. Cross-interacting TA systems have a potential to form a complex network of mutually activating regulators in bacteria.
Project description:Clostridium perfringens type A strains producing enterotoxin (CPE) cause one of the most common bacterial food-borne illnesses, as well as many cases of non-food-borne human gastrointestinal disease. Recent studies have shown that an Agr-like quorum-sensing system controls production of chromosomally encoded alpha-toxin and perfringolysin O by C. perfringens, as well as sporulation by Clostridium botulinum and Clostridium sporogenes. The current study explored whether the Agr-like quorum-sensing system also regulates sporulation and production of two plasmid-encoded toxins (CPE and beta2 toxin) that may contribute to the pathogenesis of non-food-borne human gastrointestinal disease strain F5603. An isogenic agrB null mutant was inhibited for production of beta2 toxin during vegetative growth and in sporulating culture, providing the first evidence that, in C. perfringens, this system can control production of plasmid-encoded toxins as well as chromosomally encoded toxins. This mutant also showed reduced production of alpha-toxin and perfringolysin O during vegetative growth. Importantly, when cultured in sporulation medium, the mutant failed to efficiently form spores and was blocked for CPE production. Complementation partially or fully reversed all phenotypic changes in the mutant, confirming that they were specifically due to inactivation of the agr locus. Western blots suggest that this loss of sporulation and sporulation-specific CPE production for the agrB null mutant involves, at least in part, Agr-mediated regulation of production of Spo0A and alternative sigma factors, which are essential for C. perfringens sporulation.
Project description:Colicins are toxins produced and released by Enterobacteriaceae to kill competitors in the gut. While group A colicins employ a division of labor strategy to liberate the toxin into the environment via colicin-specific lysis, group B colicin systems lack cognate lysis genes. In Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Tm), the group B colicin Ib (ColIb) is released by temperate phage-mediated bacteriolysis. Phage-mediated ColIb release promotes S. Tm fitness against competing Escherichia coli It remained unclear how prophage-mediated lysis is realized in a clonal population of ColIb producers and if prophages contribute to evolutionary stability of toxin release in S. Tm. Here, we show that prophage-mediated lysis occurs in an S. Tm subpopulation only, thereby introducing phenotypic heterogeneity to the system. We established a mathematical model to study the dynamic interplay of S. Tm, ColIb, and a temperate phage in the presence of a competing species. Using this model, we studied long-term evolution of phage lysis rates in a fluctuating infection scenario. This revealed that phage lysis evolves as bet-hedging strategy that maximizes phage spread, regardless of whether colicin is present or not. We conclude that the ColIb system, lacking its own lysis gene, is making use of the evolutionary stable phage strategy to be released. Prophage lysis genes are highly prevalent in nontyphoidal Salmonella genomes. This suggests that the release of ColIb by temperate phages is widespread. In conclusion, our findings shed new light on the evolution and ecology of group B colicin systems.IMPORTANCE Bacteria are excellent model organisms to study mechanisms of social evolution. The production of public goods, e.g., toxin release by cell lysis in clonal bacterial populations, is a frequently studied example of cooperative behavior. Here, we analyze evolutionary stabilization of toxin release by the enteric pathogen Salmonella The release of colicin Ib (ColIb), which is used by Salmonella to gain an edge against competing microbiota following infection, is coupled to bacterial lysis mediated by temperate phages. Here, we show that phage-dependent lysis and subsequent release of colicin and phage particles occurs only in part of the ColIb-expressing Salmonella population. This phenotypic heterogeneity in lysis, which represents an essential step in the temperate phage life cycle, has evolved as a bet-hedging strategy under fluctuating environments such as the gastrointestinal tract. Our findings suggest that prophages can thereby evolutionarily stabilize costly toxin release in bacterial populations.