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Coxiella burnetii, an obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen that causes Q fever, undergoes a biphasic developmental cycle that alternates between a metabolically-active large cell variant (LCV) and a dormant small cell variant (SCV). As such, the bacterium undoubtedly employs complex modes of regulating its lifecycle, metabolism and pathogenesis. Small RNAs (sRNAs) have been shown to play important regulatory roles in controlling metabolism and virulence in several pathogenic bacteria. We hypothesize that sRNAs are involved in regulating growth and development of C. burnetii and its infection of host cells. To address the hypothesis and identify potential sRNAs, we subjected total RNA isolated from Coxiella cultured axenically and in Vero host cells to deep-sequencing. Using this approach, we identified fifteen novel C. burnetii sRNAs (CbSRs). Fourteen CbSRs were validated by Northern blotting. Most CbSRs showed differential expression, with increased levels in LCVs. Eight CbSRs were upregulated ($2-fold) during intracellular growth as compared to growth in axenic medium. Along with the fifteen sRNAs, we also identified three sRNAs that have been previously described from other bacteria, including RNase P RNA, tmRNA and 6S RNA. The 6S regulatory sRNA of C. burnetii was found to accumulate over log phase-growth with a maximum level attained in the SCV stage. The 6S RNA-encoding gene (ssrS) was mapped to the 59 UTR of ygfA; a highly conserved linkage in eubacteria. The predicted secondary structure of the 6S RNA possesses three highly conserved domains found in 6S RNAs of other eubacteria. We also demonstrate that Coxiella’s 6S RNA interacts with RNA polymerase (RNAP) in a specific manner. Finally, transcript levels of 6S RNA were found to be at much higher levels when Coxiella was grown in host cells relative to axenic culture, indicating a potential role in regulating the bacterium’s intracellular stress response by interacting with RNAP during transcription.
© 2014 Warrier et al.
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Warrier I, Hicks LD, Battisti JM, Raghavan R, Minnick MF (2014) Identification of Novel Small RNAs and Characterization of the 6S RNA of Coxiella burnetii. PLoS ONE 9(6): e100147. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100147