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Catalytically Active Cas9 Mediates Transcriptional Interference to Facilitate Bacterial Virulence.In addition to defense against foreign DNA, the CRISPR-Cas9 system of Francisella novicida represses expression of an endogenous immunostimulatory lipoprotein. We investigated the specificity and molecular mechanism of this regulation, demonstrating that Cas9 controls a highly specific regulon of four genes that must be repressed for bacterial virulence. Regulation occurs through a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM)-dependent interaction of Cas9 with its endogenous DNA targets, dependent on a non-canonical small RNA (scaRNA) and tracrRNA. The limited complementarity between scaRNA and the endogenous DNA targets precludes cleavage, highlighting the evolution of scaRNA to repress transcription without lethally targeting the chromosome. We show that scaRNA can be reprogrammed to repress other genes, and with engineered, extended complementarity to an exogenous target, the repurposed scaRNA:tracrRNA-FnoCas9 machinery can also direct DNA cleavage. Natural Cas9 transcriptional interference likely represents a broad paradigm of regulatory functionality, which is potentially critical to the physiology of numerous Cas9-encoding pathogenic and commensal organisms.
Characterization of a transcriptional TPP riboswitch in the human pathogen Neisseriameningitidis.Increasing evidence has demonstrated that regulatory RNA elements such as riboswitches (RS) play a pivotal role in the fine-tuning of bacterial gene expression. In this study, we investigated and characterized a novel transcriptional thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) RS in the obligate human pathogen N. meningitidis MC58 (serogroup B). This RS is located in the 5´ untranslated region upstream of thiC gene, encoding a protein involved in TPP biosynthesis, an essential cofactor for all living beings. Primer extension revealed the transcriptional start site of thiC. Northern blot analysis of thiC mRNA and reporter gene studies confirmed the presence of an active TPP-sensing RS. Expression patterns of the wild-type RS and site-specific mutants showed that it is an OFF switch that controls transcription elongation of thiC mRNA. Interestingly, the regulatory mechanism of the meningococcal thiC RS resembles the Gram-positive Bacillus subtilis thiC RS rather than the Gram-negative Escherichia coli thiC RS. Therefore, the meningococcal thiC RS represents a rare example of transcriptional RS in a Gram-negative bacterium. We further observed that the RS is actively involved in modulating gene expression in response to different growth media and to supplemented bacterial and eukaryotic cell lysates as possible sources of nutrients in the nasopharynx. Our results suggest that RS-mediated gene regulation could influence meningococcal fitness, through the fine-tuning of biosynthesis and scavenging of nutrients and cofactors, such as thiamine.