The incompatibility between the PlcR- and AtxA-controlled regulons may have selected a nonsense mutation in Bacillus anthracis.Mol Microbiol 2001; 42(5):1189-98MM
Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus cereus are members of the Bacillus cereus group. These bacteria express virulence in diverse ways in mammals and insects. The pathogenic properties of B. cereus and B. thuringiensis in mammals results largely from the secretion of non-specific toxins, including haemolysins, the production of which depends upon a pleiotropic activator PlcR. In B. anthracis, PlcR is inactive because of a nonsense mutation in the plcR gene. This suggests that the phenotypic differences between B. anthracis on the one hand and B. thuringiensis and B. cereus on the other could result at least partly from loss of the PlcR regulon. We expressed a functional PlcR in B. anthracis. This resulted in the transcriptional activation of genes weakly expressed in the absence of PlcR. The transcriptional activation correlated with the induction of enzymatic activities and toxins including haemolysins. The toxicity of a B. anthracis PlcR+ strain was assayed in the mouse subcutaneous and nasal models of infection. It was no greater than that of the parental strain, suggesting that the PlcR regulon has no influence on B. anthracis virulence. The PlcR regulon had dramatic effects on the sporulation of a B. anthracis strain containing the virulence plasmid pXO1. This resulted from incompatible interactions with the major AtxA-controlled virulence regulon. We propose that the PlcR-controlled regulon in B. anthracis has been counterselected on account of its disadvantageous effects.