The clinical and histopathological manifestations of syphilis and the invasive behavior of Treponema pallidum in tissue culture systems reflect the propensity for treponemes to migrate through skin, hematogenously disseminate, and invade targeted tissues. Treponemal motility is believed to be essential to this process and thereby an important facet of syphilis pathogenesis. By analogy with other bacterial pathogens, it is plausible that treponemal motility and tissue invasion are modulated by sensory transduction events associated with chemotactic responses. Recent studies have demonstrated the existence in T. pallidum of accessory molecules typically associated with sensory transduction events involving methyl- accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs). Intrinsic radiolabeling of T. pallidum in vitro with L-[methyl-3H]methionine revealed one methylated trepone-mal polypeptide with an apparent molecular mass of 64 kDa. A degenerate oligonucleotide probe corresponding to a highly conserved C-terminal domain within Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli MCPs was used in Southern blotting of T. pallidum DNA to identify and subsequently clone a putative T. pallidum MCP gene (mcp1). Computer analyses predicted a near-consensus promoter upstream of mcp1, and primer extension analysis employing T. pallidum RNA revealed a transcriptional initiation site. T. pallidum mcp1 encoded a 579-amino-acid (64.6-kDa) polypeptide which was highly homologous to at least 69 other known or putative sensory transducer proteins, with the highest degrees of homology existing between the C terminus of mcp1 and the C-terminal (signaling) domains of the other bacterial MCPs. Other salient features of Mcp1 included (i) six potential membrane-spanning domains at the N terminus, (ii) two predicted alpha-helical coiled coil regions containing at least three putative methylation sites, and (iii) homologies with two ligand-binding domains (LI-1 and LI-2) of the E. coli MCPs Trg and Tar. This study is the first to provide both metabolic and genetic evidence for an MCP sensory transducer in T. pallidum. The combined findings prompt key questions regarding the relationship(s) among sensory transduction, regulation of endoflagellar rotation, and chemotactic responses (in particular, the role of glucose) during virulence expression by T. pallidum.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases