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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Heme rescues a two-component system Leptospira biflexa mutant

Hélène Louvel1, Jean-Michel Betton2 and Mathieu Picardeau1*

Author Affiliations

1 Unité de Biologie des Spirochètes, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France

2 Unité de Biochimie Structurale & CNRS URA2185, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France

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BMC Microbiology 2008, 8:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-25

Published: 30 January 2008



Heme is typically a major iron source for bacteria, but little is known about how bacteria of the Leptospira genus, composed of both saprophytic and pathogenic species, access heme.


In this study, we analysed a two-component system of the saprophyte Leptospira biflexa. In vitro phosphorylation and site-directed mutagenesis assays showed that Hklep is a histidine kinase which, after autophosphorylation of a conserved histidine, transfers the phosphate to an essential aspartate of the response regulator Rrlep. Hklep/Rrlep two-component system mutants were generated in L. biflexa. The mutants could only grow in medium supplemented with hemin or δ-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). In the pathogen L. interrogans, the hklep and rrlep orthologous genes are located between hemE and hemL genes, which encode proteins involved in heme biosynthesis. The L. biflexa hklep mutant could be complemented with a replicative plasmid harbouring the L. interrogans orthologous gene, suggesting that these two-component systems are functionally similar. By real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR, we also observed that this two-component system might influence the expression of heme biosynthetic genes.


These findings demonstrate that the Hklep/Rrlep regulatory system is critical for the in vitro growth of L. biflexa, and suggest that this two-component system is involved in a complex mechanism that regulates the heme biosynthetic pathway.