group leader: Dr. Westermann

Recent Submissions

  • Amidochelocardin Overcomes Resistance Mechanisms Exerted on Tetracyclines and Natural Chelocardin.

    Hennessen, Fabienne; Miethke, Marcus; Zaburannyi, Nestor; Loose, Maria; Lukežič, Tadeja; Bernecker, Steffen; Hüttel, Stephan; Jansen, Rolf; Schmiedel, Judith; Fritzenwanker, Moritz; et al. (MDPI, 2020-09-18)
    The reassessment of known but neglected natural compounds is a vital strategy for providing novel lead structures urgently needed to overcome antimicrobial resistance. Scaffolds with resistance-breaking properties represent the most promising candidates for a successful translation into future therapeutics. Our study focuses on chelocardin, a member of the atypical tetracyclines, and its bioengineered derivative amidochelocardin, both showing broad-spectrum antibacterial activity within the ESKAPE (Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species) panel. Further lead development of chelocardins requires extensive biological and chemical profiling to achieve favorable pharmaceutical properties and efficacy. This study shows that both molecules possess resistance-breaking properties enabling the escape from most common tetracycline resistance mechanisms. Further, we show that these compounds are potent candidates for treatment of urinary tract infections due to their in vitro activity against a large panel of multidrug-resistant uropathogenic clinical isolates. In addition, the mechanism of resistance to natural chelocardin was identified as relying on efflux processes, both in the chelocardin producer Amycolatopsis sulphurea and in the pathogen Klebsiella pneumoniae. Resistance development in Klebsiella led primarily to mutations in ramR, causing increased expression of the acrAB-tolC efflux pump. Most importantly, amidochelocardin overcomes this resistance mechanism, revealing not only the improved activity profile but also superior resistance-breaking properties of this novel antibacterial compound.
  • An RNA-centric view on gut Bacteroidetes.

    Ryan, Daniel; Prezza, Gianluca; Westermann, Alexander J; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Walter de Gruyter, 2020-09-24)
    Bacteria employ noncoding RNAs to maintain cellular physiology, adapt global gene expression to fluctuating environments, sense nutrients, coordinate their interaction with companion microbes and host cells, and protect themselves against bacteriophages. While bacterial RNA research has made fundamental contributions to biomedicine and biotechnology, the bulk of our knowledge of RNA biology stems from the study of a handful of aerobic model species. In comparison, RNA research is lagging in many medically relevant obligate anaerobic species, in particular the numerous commensal bacteria comprising our gut microbiota. This review presents a guide to RNA-based regulatory mechanisms in the phylum Bacteroidetes, focusing on the most abundant bacterial genus in the human gut, Bacteroides spp. This includes recent case reports on riboswitches, an mRNA leader, cis- and trans-encoded small RNAs (sRNAs) in Bacteroides spp., and a survey of CRISPR-Cas systems across Bacteroidetes. Recent work from our laboratory now suggests the existence of hundreds of noncoding RNA candidates in Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, the emerging model organism for functional microbiota research. Based on these collective observations, we predict mechanistic and functional commonalities and differences between Bacteroides sRNAs and those of other model bacteria, and outline open questions and tools needed to boost Bacteroidetes RNA research.
  • An Advanced Human Intestinal Coculture Model Reveals Compartmentalized Host and Pathogen Strategies during Infection.

    Schulte, Leon N; Schweinlin, Matthias; Westermann, Alexander J; Janga, Harshavardhan; Santos, Sara C; Appenzeller, Silke; Walles, Heike; Vogel, Jörg; Metzger, Marco; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (American Society for Microbiology (ASM), 2020-02-18)
    A major obstacle in infection biology is the limited ability to recapitulate human disease trajectories in traditional cell culture and animal models, which impedes the translation of basic research into clinics. Here, we introduce a three-dimensional (3D) intestinal tissue model to study human enteric infections at a level of detail that is not achieved by conventional two-dimensional monocultures. Our model comprises epithelial and endothelial layers, a primary intestinal collagen scaffold, and immune cells. Upon Salmonella infection, the model mimics human gastroenteritis, in that it restricts the pathogen to the epithelial compartment, an advantage over existing mouse models. Application of dual transcriptome sequencing to the Salmonella-infected model revealed the communication of epithelial, endothelial, monocytic, and natural killer cells among each other and with the pathogen. Our results suggest that Salmonella uses its type III secretion systems to manipulate STAT3-dependent inflammatory responses locally in the epithelium without accompanying alterations in the endothelial compartment. Our approach promises to reveal further human-specific infection strategies employed by Salmonella and other pathogens.IMPORTANCE Infection research routinely employs in vitro cell cultures or in vivo mouse models as surrogates of human hosts. Differences between murine and human immunity and the low level of complexity of traditional cell cultures, however, highlight the demand for alternative models that combine the in vivo-like properties of the human system with straightforward experimental perturbation. Here, we introduce a 3D tissue model comprising multiple cell types of the human intestinal barrier, a primary site of pathogen attack. During infection with the foodborne pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, our model recapitulates human disease aspects, including pathogen restriction to the epithelial compartment, thereby deviating from the systemic infection in mice. Combination of our model with state-of-the-art genetics revealed Salmonella-mediated local manipulations of human immune responses, likely contributing to the establishment of the pathogen's infection niche. We propose the adoption of similar 3D tissue models to infection biology, to advance our understanding of molecular infection strategies employed by bacterial pathogens in their human host.
  • MetaMap: An atlas of metatranscriptomic reads in human disease-related RNA-seq data

    Simon, L. M.; Karg, S.; Westermann, A. J.; Engel, M.; Elbehery, A. H.A.; Hense, B.; Heinig, M.; Deng, L.; Theis, F. J.; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Oxford University Press, 2018-06-01)
    Background: With the advent of the age of big data in bioinformatics, large volumes of data and high-performance computing power enable researchers to perform re-analyses of publicly available datasets at an unprecedented scale. Ever more studies imply the microbiome in both normal human physiology and a wide range of diseases. RNA sequencing technology (RNA-seq) is commonly used to infer global eukaryotic gene expression patterns under defined conditions, including human disease-related contexts; however, its generic nature also enables the detection of microbial and viral transcripts. Findings: We developed a bioinformatic pipeline to screen existing human RNA-seq datasets for the presence of microbial and viral reads by re-inspecting the non-human-mapping read fraction. We validated this approach by recapitulating outcomes from six independent, controlled infection experiments of cell line models and compared them with an alternative metatranscriptomic mapping strategy. We then applied the pipeline to close to 150 terabytes of publicly available raw RNA-seq data from  more than 17,000 samples from more than 400 studies relevant to human disease using state-of-the-art high-performance computing systems. The resulting data from this large-scale re-analysis are made available in the presented MetaMap resource. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that common human RNA-seq data, including those archived in public repositories, might contain valuable information to correlate microbial and viral detection patterns with diverse diseases. The presented MetaMap database thus provides a rich resource for hypothesis generation toward the role of the microbiome in human disease. Additionally, codes to process new datasets and perform statistical analyses are made available.
  • The Major RNA-Binding Protein ProQ Impacts Virulence Gene Expression in Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium.

    Westermann, Alexander J; Venturini, Elisa; Sellin, Mikael E; Förstner, Konrad U; Hardt, Wolf-Dietrich; Vogel, Jörg; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Amercan Society of Microbiology, 2019-01-02)
    FinO domain proteins such as ProQ of the model pathogen
  • CRP-cAMP mediates silencing of Salmonella virulence at the post-transcriptional level.

    El Mouali, Youssef; Gaviria-Cantin, Tania; Sánchez-Romero, María Antonia; Gibert, Marta; Westermann, Alexander J; Vogel, Jörg; Balsalobre, Carlos; HIRI, Helmoltz-Institut für RNA-basierteInfektionsforschung, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (2018-01-01)
    Invasion of epithelial cells by Salmonella enterica requires expression of genes located in the pathogenicity island I (SPI-1). The expression of SPI-1 genes is very tightly regulated and activated only under specific conditions. Most studies have focused on the regulatory pathways that induce SPI-1 expression. Here, we describe a new regulatory circuit involving CRP-cAMP, a widely established metabolic regulator, in silencing of SPI-1 genes under non-permissive conditions. In CRP-cAMP-deficient strains we detected a strong upregulation of SPI-1 genes in the mid-logarithmic growth phase. Genetic analyses revealed that CRP-cAMP modulates the level of HilD, the master regulator of Salmonella invasion. This regulation occurs at the post-transcriptional level and requires the presence of a newly identified regulatory motif within the hilD 3'UTR. We further demonstrate that in Salmonella the Hfq-dependent sRNA Spot 42 is under the transcriptional repression of CRP-cAMP and, when this transcriptional repression is relieved, Spot 42 exerts a positive effect on hilD expression. In vivo and in vitro assays indicate that Spot 42 targets, through its unstructured region III, the 3'UTR of the hilD transcript. Together, our results highlight the biological relevance of the hilD 3'UTR as a hub for post-transcriptional control of Salmonella invasion gene expression.