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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The Sinorhizobium meliloti RNA chaperone Hfq influences central carbon metabolism and the symbiotic interaction with alfalfa

Omar Torres-Quesada1, Roke I Oruezabal2, Alexandra Peregrina1, Edgardo Jofré3, Javier Lloret2, Rafael Rivilla2, Nicolás Toro1 and José I Jiménez-Zurdo1*

Author affiliations

1 Grupo de Ecología Genética de la Rizosfera, Estación Experimental del Zaidín, CSIC, Profesor Albareda, 1, 18008 Granada, Spain

2 Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Campus de Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain

3 Departamento de Ciencias Naturales, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físico-Químicas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto, Ruta 36 Km 601, X5804BYA Río Cuarto, Córdoba, Argentina

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-71

Published: 6 March 2010

Abstract

Background

The bacterial Hfq protein is able to interact with diverse RNA molecules, including regulatory small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs), and thus it is recognized as a global post-transcriptional regulator of gene expression. Loss of Hfq has an extensive impact in bacterial physiology which in several animal pathogens influences virulence. Sinorhizobium meliloti is a model soil bacterium known for its ability to establish a beneficial nitrogen-fixing intracellular symbiosis with alfalfa. Despite the predicted general involvement of Hfq in the establishment of successful bacteria-eukaryote interactions, its function in S. meliloti has remained unexplored.

Results

Two independent S. meliloti mutants, 2011-3.4 and 1021Δhfq, were obtained by disruption and deletion of the hfq gene in the wild-type strains 2011 and 1021, respectively, both exhibiting similar growth defects as free-living bacteria. Transcriptomic profiling of 1021Δhfq revealed a general down-regulation of genes of sugar transporters and some enzymes of the central carbon metabolism, whereas transcripts specifying the uptake and metabolism of nitrogen sources (mainly amino acids) were more abundant than in the wild-type strain. Proteomic analysis of the 2011-3.4 mutant independently confirmed these observations. Symbiotic tests showed that lack of Hfq led to a delayed nodulation, severely compromised bacterial competitiveness on alfalfa roots and impaired normal plant growth. Furthermore, a large proportion of nodules (55%-64%) elicited by the 1021Δhfq mutant were non-fixing, with scarce content in bacteroids and signs of premature senescence of endosymbiotic bacteria. RT-PCR experiments on RNA from bacteria grown under aerobic and microoxic conditions revealed that Hfq contributes to regulation of nifA and fixK1/K2, the genes controlling nitrogen fixation, although the Hfq-mediated regulation of fixK is only aerobiosis dependent. Finally, we found that some of the recently identified S. meliloti sRNAs co-inmunoprecipitate with a FLAG-epitope tagged Hfq protein.

Conclusions

Our results support that the S. meliloti RNA chaperone Hfq contributes to the control of central metabolic pathways in free-living bacteria and influences rhizospheric competence, survival of the microsymbiont within the nodule cells and nitrogen fixation during the symbiotic interaction with its legume host alfalfa. The identified S. meliloti Hfq-binding sRNAs are predicted to participate in the Hfq regulatory network.