Investigations into the role of aromatic amino acids in quorum sensing-mediated virulence in Pseudomonas aeruginosa



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Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative opportunistic pathogen that is a primary constituent of chronic, polymicrobial infections in the lungs of individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF). A significant consequence of CF is production of thick mucus along epithelial surfaces. In the lungs, this mucus collects and serves as an excellent growth substrate for a range of bacteria including. CF lung fluids (sputum) also enhance the virulence of P. aeruginosa, as production of a signaling molecule critical for virulence, the Pseudomonas quinolone signal (PQS), is enhanced in the presence of phenylalanine and tyrosine in CF sputum. The goal of this dissertation is to better understand how phenylalanine and tyrosine affect PQS production and ultimately P. aeruginosa virulence. To address this, I use transcriptome profiling to determine that genes for phenylalanine and tyrosine catabolism, PQS biosynthesis, and a transcriptional regulator called PhhR are up-regulated in the presence of phenylalanine and tyrosine. I determine that PhhR regulates genes for aromatic amino acid catabolism but not genes for PQS biosynthesis. The PhhR regulon is further characterized by mapping of PhhR-regulated promoters with primer extension, and evidence for direct regulation is presented. To explain enhanced production of PQS in CF sputum, I favor a model in which flux of a shared metabolic precursor, chorismate, toward PQS biosynthesis is enhanced when phenylalanine and tyrosine are present. I investigate this model by examining the first step in PQS biosynthesis, conversion of chorismate to anthranilate by an anthranilate synthase (AS). P. aeruginosa possesses two AS enzymes encoded by the trpEG and phnAB genes, with the former generating anthranilate specifically for tryptophan biosynthesis while the latter generates anthranilate for PQS biosynthesis. I investigate the evolutionary origins of these two enzymes and generate unmarked deletion mutants to dissect their roles in tryptophan and PQS biosynthesis. The ability of PhnAB to compensate for loss of TrpEG at high cell densities is documented, and a model explaining anthranilate sequestering is developed. Knowledge gained from these studies will be useful in developing novel therapeutic strategies.