Phenylacetyl Coenzyme A, Not Phenylacetic Acid, Attenuates CepIR-Regulated Virulence in Burkholderia cenocepacia

Tasia Joy Lightly, Kara L. Frejuk, Marie Christine Groleau, Laurent R. Chiarelli, Cor Ras, Silvia Buroni, Eric Déziel, John L. Sorensen, Silvia T. Cardona

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    During phenylalanine catabolism, phenylacetic acid (PAA) is converted to phenylacetyl coenzyme A (PAA-CoA) by a ligase, PaaK, and then PAA-CoA is epoxidized by a multicomponent monooxygenase, PaaABCDE, before further degradation through the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. In the opportunistic pathogen Burkholderia cenocepacia, loss of paaABCDE attenuates virulence factor expression, which is under the control of the LuxIR-like quorum sensing (QS) system, CepIR. To further investigate the link between CepIR-regulated virulence and PAA catabolism, we created knockout mutants of the first step of the pathway (PAA-CoA synthesis by PaaK) and characterized them in comparison to a paaABCDE mutant using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and virulence assays. We found that while loss of PaaABCDE decreased virulence, deletion of the paaK genes resulted in a more virulent phenotype than that of the wild-type strain. Deletion of either paaK or paaABCDE led to higher levels of released PAA but no differences in levels of internal accumulation compared to the wild-type level. While we found no evidence of direct cepIR downregulation by PAA-CoA or PAA, a low-virulence cepR mutant reverted to a virulent phenotype upon removal of the paaK genes. On the other hand, removal of paaABCDE in the cepR mutant did not impact its attenuated phenotype. Together, our results suggest an indirect role for PAA-CoA in suppressing B. cenocepacia CepIR-activated virulence. The opportunistic pathogen Burkholderia cenocepacia uses a chemical signal process called quorum sensing (QS) to produce virulence factors. In B. cenocepacia, QS relies on the presence of the transcriptional regulator CepR which, upon binding QS signal molecules, activates virulence. In this work, we found that even in the absence of CepR, B. cenocepacia can elicit a pathogenic response if phenylacetyl-CoA, an intermediate of the phenylacetic acid degradation pathway, is not produced. Instead, accumulation of phenylacetyl-CoA appears to attenuate pathogenicity. Therefore, we have discovered that it is possible to trigger virulence in the absence of CepR, challenging the classical view of activation of virulence by this QS mechanism. Our work provides new insight into the relationship between metabolism and virulence in opportunistic bacteria. We propose that in the event that QS signaling molecules cannot accumulate to trigger a pathogenic response, a metabolic signal can still activate virulence in B. cenocepacia.

    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages17
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number24
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • Burkholderia
    • Burkholderia cenocepacia
    • Burkholderia cepacia complex
    • CepIR
    • CepR
    • metabolic regulation
    • phenylacetate
    • phenylacetic acid
    • phenylacetyl-CoA
    • quorum sensing


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