The trans-activator vir is required for expression of all virulence-associated genes in Bordetella pertussis. The nature of the global regulation of these factors by vir and environmental signals was examined by Northern blot analysis and with beta-galactosidase transcriptional fusions in five vir-regulated genes. Northern blots suggested that vir regulates at the level of transcription since Vir- organisms did not exhibit detectable mRNA from vir-regulated loci. Environmental signals such as high levels of salts, nicotinic acid, and 6-chloronicotinic acid or growth at low temperatures were examined. Of all of the cations and anions examined, only SO4 ions eliminated transcription of vir-regulated genes and reduced transcription of vir itself, suggesting that global regulation is obtained by modifying expression of the essential component, vir. Organisms grown on 6-chloronicotinic acid or quinaldic acid did not have detectable transcription from vir-regulated loci. Modulation by nicotinic acid, on the other hand, was strain dependent, acting at the level of transcription in strain 18-323 but not in Tohama I derivatives. Growth at lower temperatures reduced, but did not eliminate, transcription from vir-regulated loci. At 28 degrees C the ratio of pertussis toxin mRNA to recA mRNA (a non-vir-regulated factor) was equivalent to that at 37 degrees C, suggesting that transcription at low temperatures is reduced in a proportional manner and need not involve vir
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