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Inducible expression of (pp)pGpp synthetases in Staphylococcus aureus is associated with activation of stress response genes

By Petra Horvatek, Andrew Magdy Fekry Hanna, Fabio Lino Gratani, Daniela Keinhörster, Natalya Korn, Marina Borisova, Christoph Mayer, Dominik Rejman, Ulrike Mäder, Christiane Wolz

Posted 25 Apr 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.25.059725

The stringent response is characterized by the synthesis of the messenger molecules pppGpp, ppGpp or pGpp (here collectively designated (pp)pGpp). The phenotypic consequences resulting from (pp)pGpp accumulation vary among species and can be mediated by different underlying mechanisms. Most genome-wide analyses have been performed under stress conditions, which often mask the immediate effects of (pp)pGpp-mediated regulatory circuits. In Staphylococcus aureus, (pp)pGpp can be synthesized via the RelA-SpoT-homolog (RSHSau) upon amino acid limitation or via one of the two small (pp)pGpp synthetases RelP or RelQ, upon cell wall stress. We used RNA-Seq to compare the global effects in response to transcriptional induction of the synthetase domain of RSH (RSH-Syn), RelP or RelQ without the need to apply additional stress conditions. Enzyme expression resulted in changes in the nucleotide pool similar to induction of the stringent response via the tRNA synthetase inhibitor mupirocin: a reduction in the GTP pool, an increase in the ATP pool and synthesis of pppGpp, ppGpp and pGpp. Induction of all three enzymes resulted in similar changes in the transcriptome. However, RelQ was less active than RSH-Syn and RelP, indicating strong restriction of its (pp)pGpp-synthesis activity in vivo. Genes involved in the SOS response, iron storage (e.g. ftnA, dps), oxidative stress response (e.g., katA, sodA) and the psm&alpha1-4 and psm&beta1-2 operons coding for cytotoxic, phenole soluble modulins (PSMs) were highly upregulated upon (pp)pGpp synthesis. Analyses of the ftnA, dps and psm genes in different regulatory mutants revealed that their (pp)pGpp-dependent regulation can occur independent of the regulators PerR, Fur, SarA or CodY. Moreover, psm expression is uncoupled from expression of the quorum sensing system Agr, the main known psm activator. The expression of central genes of the oxidative stress response protects the bacteria from anticipated ROS stress derived from PSMs or exogenous sources. Thus, we identified a new link between the stringent response and oxidative stress in S. aureus that is likely crucial for survival upon phagocytosis. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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