The ability to utilize the iron bound by high-affinity iron-binding proteins in the vertebrate host is an important virulence factor for the marine fish pathogen Vibrio anguillarum. Virulence in septicemic infections is due to the presence of a highly efficient plasmid-encoded iron transport system. AngR, a 110-kDa protein component of this system, appears to play a role in both regulation of the expression of the iron transport genes fatDCBA and the production of the siderophore anguibactin. Therefore, study of the expression of the angR gene and the properties of its product, the AngR protein, may contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms of virulence of this pathogen. In this work, we present genetic and molecular evidence from transposition mutagenesis experiments and RNA analysis that angR, which maps immediately downstream of the fatA gene, is part of a polycistronic transcript that also includes the iron transport genes fatDCBA and angT, a gene located downstream of angR which showed domain homology to certain thioesterases involved in nonribosomal peptide synthesis of siderophores and antibiotics. In order to dissect the specific domains of AngR associated with regulation of iron transport gene expression, anguibactin production, and virulence, we also generated a panel of site-directed angR mutants, as well as deletion derivatives. Both virulence and anguibactin production were dramatically affected by each one of the angR modifications. In contrast to the need for an intact AngR molecule for anguibactin production and virulence, the regulation of iron transport gene expression does not require the entire AngR molecule, since truncation of the carboxy terminus carrying the nonribosomal peptide synthetase cores, as well as the site-directed mutations, resulted in derivatives that retained their ability to regulate gene expression which was only abolished after truncation of amino-terminal sequences containing helix-turn-helix and leucine zipper motifs and a specialized heterocyclization and condensation domain found in certain nonribosomal peptide synthetases. The evidence, while not rigorously eliminating the possibility that a separate regulatory polypeptide exists and is encoded somewhere within the 5′-end region of the angR gene, strongly supports the idea that AngR is a bifunctional protein and that it plays an essential role in the virulence mechanisms of V. anguillarum. We also show in this study that the angT gene, found downstream of angR, intervenes in the mechanism of anguibactin production but is not essential for virulence or iron transport gene expression
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