Xenorhabdus is a major insect pathogen symbiotically associated with nematodes of the family Steinernematidae. This motile bacterium displays swarming behavior on suitable media, but a spontaneous loss of motility is observed as part of a phenomenon designated phase variation which involves the loss of stationary-phase products active as antibiotics and potential virulence factors. To investigate the role of one of the transcriptional activators of flagellar genes, FlhDC, in motility and virulence, the Xenorhabdus nematophilus flhDC locus was identified by functional complementation of an Escherichia coli flhD null mutant and DNA sequencing. Construction of X. nematophilus flhD null mutants confirmed that the flhDC operon controls flagellin expression but also revealed that lipolytic and extracellular hemolysin activity is flhDC dependent. We also showed that the flhD null mutant displayed a slightly attenuated virulence phenotype in Spodoptera littoralis compared to that of the wild-type strain. Thus, these data indicated that motility, lipase, hemolysin, or unknown functions controlled by the flhDC operon are involved in the infectious process in insects. Our investigation expands the view of the flagellar regulon as a checkpoint coupled to a major network involving bacterial physiological aspects as well as motility
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