Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Yahr, Timothy L.

First Committee Member

Ellermeier, Craig

Second Committee Member

McCarter, Linda

Third Committee Member

Weiss, David

Fourth Committee Member

Fuentes, Ernesto


Transcription of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa type III secretion system is controlled by ExsA, a member of the AraC/XylS family of regulators. ExsA is comprised of an amino terminal domain that is involved in self-association and regulatory functions, and a carboxy-terminal domain that contains two helix-turn helix (HTH) DNA-binding motifs which contact promoter DNA. Previous work from our lab determined the function of the two independent ExsA domains and found that each ExsA-dependent promoter contains two adjacent binding sites for monomeric ExsA. The promoter-proximal site (binding site 1) consists of highly conserved GnC and TGnnA sequences that are individually recognized by the two HTH DNA-binding motifs of an ExsA monomer. Nevertheless, the details of how ExsA recognizes and binds to ExsA-dependent promoters were still unknown. In chapter II I show that the two ExsA monomers bind to promoter regions in a head-to-tail orientation and identify residues in the first HTH of ExsA that contact the GnC sequence. Likewise, residues located in the second HTH motif, which contribute to the recognition of the TGnnA sequence, were also identified. While the GnC and TGnnA sequences are important for binding to site 1, the promoter-distal binding sites (site 2) lack obvious similarity among themselves or with binding site 1. Site 2 in the PexsC promoter region contains a GnC sequence that is functionally equivalent to the GnC in site 1 and recognized by the first HTH motif of an ExsA monomer and the second HTH interacts with an adenine residue in binding site 2. A comparison of hybrid promoters composed of binding site 2 from one promoter fused to binding site 1 derived from another promoter indicates that ExsA-binding affinity, promoter strength, and the degree of promoter bending are properties that are largely determined by binding site 2.

Through the course of the ExsA studies I observed that the amino acids that comprise the HTH motifs of ExsA are nearly identical to those in LcrF/VirF, the activators of T3SS gene expression in the pathogenic yersiniae. In chapter III I tested the hypothesis that ExsA/LcrF/VirF recognize a common nucleotide sequence. Here I report that Yersinia pestis LcrF binds to and activates transcription of ExsA-dependent promoters in P. aeruginosa, and that plasmid expressed ExsA complements a Y. pestis lcrF mutant for T3SS gene expression. Mutations that disrupt the ExsA consensus-binding sites in both P. aeruginosa and Y. pestis T3SS promoters prevent activation by ExsA and LcrF. All of the data combined demonstrate that ExsA and LcrF recognize a common nucleotide sequence. Nevertheless, the DNA binding properties of ExsA and LcrF are distinct. Whereas two ExsA monomers are sequentially recruited to the promoter region, LcrF binds to promoter DNA as a preformed dimer and has a higher capacity to bend DNA. An LcrF mutant defective for dimerization bound promoter DNA with properties similar to ExsA. Finally, I demonstrate that the activators of T3SS gene expression from Photorhabdus luminescens, Aeromonas hydrophila, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are also sensitive to mutations that disrupt the ExsA-consensus binding site. Taken together, this work shows that ExsA binding and activation at T3SS gene promoters serves as a model system by which the DNA binding properties of other AraC family transcriptional activators can be predicted.


AraC/XylS protein, ExsA, LcrF, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Transcriptional regulation, Type III Secretion System


xi, 143 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 133-143).


Copyright 2013 Jessica King

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Microbiology Commons