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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Comparative genomics of VirR regulons in Clostridium perfringens strains

Antonio Frandi1, Alessio Mengoni1 and Matteo Brilli2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Biology, via Romana 17-19, I-50125 Firenze, Italy

2 Université de Lyon, F-69000, Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS; INRIA; UMR5558; Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, F-69622, Villeurbanne, France

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:65  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-65

Published: 25 February 2010



Clostridium perfringens is a Gram-positive anaerobic bacterium causing severe diseases such as gas gangrene and pseudomembranosus colitis, that are generally due to the secretion of powerful extracellular toxins. The expression of toxin genes is mainly regulated by VirR, the response regulator of a two-component system. Up to now few targets only are known for this regulator and mainly in one strain (Strain 13). Due to the high genomic and phenotypic variability in toxin production by different strains, the development of effective strategies to counteract C. perfringens infections requires methodologies to reconstruct the VirR regulon from genome sequences.


We implemented a two step computational strategy allowing to consider available information concerning VirR binding sites in a few species to scan all genomes of the same species, assuming the VirR targets are at least partially conserved across these strains. Results obtained are in agreement with previous works where experimental validation of the promoters have been performed and showed the presence of a core and an accessory regulon of VirR in C. perfringens strains with three target genes also located on plasmids. Moreover, the type E strain JGS1987 has the largest predicted regulon with as many as 10 VirR targets not found in the other genomes.


In this work we exploited available experimental information concerning the targets of the VirR toxin regulator in one C. perfringens strain to obtain plausible predictions concerning target genes in genomes and plasmids of nearby strains. Our predictions are available for wet-lab researchers working on less characterized C. perfringens strains that can thus design focused experiments reducing the search space of their experiments and increasing the probability of characterizing positive targets with less efforts. Main result was that the VirR regulon is variable in different C. perfringens strains with 4 genes controlled in all but one strains and most genes controlled in one or two strains only.