Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Timothy L. Yahr


ExsA is an AraC-family transcriptional regulator that controls expression of T3SS genes in P. aeruginosa. ExsA binds to DNA at T3SS promoters and activates transcription. In the work presented here I examine the stoichiometry, ligand-interaction properties, and transcriptional activation mechanism of ExsA. I determined that ExsA is largely monomeric in solution. ExsA binds T3SS promoter DNA with high affinity resulting in two ExsA-DNA complexes. Whereas the lower molecular weight complex represents a single molecule of ExsA bound to DNA, the higher molecular weight complex represents two molecules of ExsA bound to adjacent sites at T3SS promoters. I next analyzed the mechanism by which ExsD negatively effects ExsA function. Chromatin Immuno-Precipitation Assays (ChIP) demonstrate that ExsD inhibits the DNA-binding activity of ExsA in vivo. Finally, I characterized the mechanism of transcriptional activation by ExsA. ExsA-dependent promoters contain regions that resemble consensus σ70 -35 and -10 recognition hexamers. The spacing between these regions, however, is increased 4-5 bp compared to the σ70 consensus. Nevertheless, I demonstrate that T3SS promoters are dependent on σ70-RNA polymerase (RNAP). Using the abortive initiation assay I discovered that ExsA recruits RNA polymerase to the PexsC and PexsD promoters. Potassium permanganate footprints indicate that following recruitment, RNAP facilitates unwinding of DNA at the -10 hexamer of T3SS promoters. Transcriptional activators generally recruit RNAP by contacting the α or σ70 subunits (or both). I have found that ExsA recruits RNAP to the PexsC and PexsD promoters by contacting region 4.2 of σ70. Although I have established the role of the -10 hexamer, the function of a near-consensus, putative -35 remains puzzling. in vitro transcription assays with mutations in the PexsC -35 hexamer reveals that this region is dispensable for ExsA-independent transcription. This data may suggest that what was thought to be a -35 hexamer is really just an ExsA binding site. Consistent with this hypothesis, I provide evidence that suggests an extended -10 element at PexsC may function to compensate for the lack of a -35 hexamer.


Aeruginosa, AraC, ExsA, Pseudomonas, RNAP, T3SS


x, 109 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 96-109).


Copyright 2010 Christopher Anthony Vakulskas

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Microbiology Commons