BACKGROUND: Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) must adapt to various stress conditions during host infection. The two-component regulatory system (2CRS) SenX3-RegX3 is required for Mtb virulence. We showed recently that the senX3-regX3 intergenic region contains promoter activity, driving senX3-independent regX3 expression. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that RegX3 has a SenX3-independent role in Mtb virulence. The gene expression patterns, growth, and survival of mutants containing transposon insertions in senX3 (senX3::Tn) and regX3 (regX3::Tn) were compared to those of their respective complemented strains and the isogenic wild-type parent strain during axenic growth in nutrient-rich broth, phosphate depletion, nutrient starvation, and in the lungs of BALB/c mice.
RESULTS: regX3 expression was reduced in senX3::Tn during phosphate depletion and nutrient starvation, and expression of the phosphate-specific transport gene pstC2 was reduced similarly in senX3::Tn and regX3::Tn during phosphate depletion. Although senX3 and regX3 were each dispensable for Mtb growth in nutrient-rich broth, disruption of senX3 or regX3 caused a similar growth defect during phosphate depletion. Interestingly, senX3::Tn, in which monocistronic regX3 expression is preserved, showed significantly higher survival relative to regX3::Tn after 7 days of nutrient starvation (p
CONCLUSION: Our data demonstrate the specificity of the senX3-regX3 2CRS for sensing and responding to low ambient phosphate, but also raise the possibility that RegX3 may function independently of its cognate sensor histidine kinase.
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