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Did I Pick the Right Colony? Pitfalls in the Study of Regulation of the Phase Variable Antigen 43 Adhesin

Abstract : Ag43 is an abundant outer membrane autotransporter adhesin present in most commensal and pathogenic Escherichia coli. Expression of the agn43 gene is characterized by a regulated reversible switch or phase variation between the agn43 ON and agn43 OFF states. Although the agn43 regulatory switch leads to a heterogeneous population of ON and OFF bacteria, studies of Ag43 seldom consider potential biases associated with phase variation. We monitored agn43 ON/OFF phase-variation status genetically and phenotypically and we show that the use of populations with random agn43 ON or OFF status could result in misleading conclusions about Ag43 function or regulation. In particular, we demonstrate that Lrp and MqsR, previously identified as agn43 regulators, do not regulate agn43 expression or ON/OFF switch frequency. We also show that biofilm formation in dynamic flow conditions does not influence agn43 ON/OFF switching but physically selects aggregating agn43 ON cells. This indicates that misinterpretation is possible when studying gene expression within biofilms. Finally, we provide evidence that ignoring the initial agn43 ON/OFF status of the E. coli populations studied is likely to bias analyses of phenotypes associated with other E. coli adhesins. This study therefore emphasizes the importance of monitoring Ag43 phase variation and indicates that caution is required when interpreting experiments using strains that are neither deleted for agn43 nor carefully assessed for agn43 ON/OFF status.
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Submitted on : Friday, October 21, 2016 - 12:58:22 PM
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Ashwini Chauhan, Chizuko Sakamoto, Jean-Marc Ghigo, Christophe Beloin. Did I Pick the Right Colony? Pitfalls in the Study of Regulation of the Phase Variable Antigen 43 Adhesin. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, 8 (9), pp.e73568. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0073568⟩. ⟨pasteur-01385431⟩

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