Clostridioides difficile, an intestinal pathogen and leading cause of nosocomial infection, exhibits extensive phenotypic heterogeneity through phase variation by site-specific recombination. The signal transduction system CmrRST, which encodes two response regulators (CmrR and CmrT) and a sensor kinase (CmrS), impacts C. difficile cell and colony morphology, surface and swimming motility, biofilm formation, and virulence in an animal model. CmrRST is subject to phase variation through site-specific recombination and reversible inversion of the ‘cmr switch’, and expression of cmrRST is also regulated by c-di-GMP through a riboswitch. The goal of this study was to determine how the cmr switch and c-di-GMP work together to regulate cmrRST expression. We generated “phase locked” strains by mutating key residues in the right inverted repeat flanking the cmr switch. Phenotypic characterization of these phase locked cmr-ON and -OFF strains demonstrates that they cannot switch between rough and smooth colony morphologies, respectively, or other CmrRST-associated phenotypes. Manipulation of c-di-GMP levels in these mutants showed that c-di-GMP promotes cmrRST expression and associated phenotypes independent of cmr switch orientation. We identified multiple promoters controlling cmrRST transcription, including one within the ON orientation of cmr switch and another that is positively autoregulated by CmrR. Overall, this work reveals a complex regulatory network that governs cmrRST expression and a unique intersection of phase variation and c-di-GMP signaling. These findings suggest that multiple environmental signals impact the production of this signaling transduction system.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.06.463453