Phase changes in Bacteroides fragilis, a member of the human colonic microbiota, mediate variations in a vast array of cell surface molecules, such as capsular polysaccharides and outer membrane proteins through DNA inversion. The results of the present study show that outer membrane vesicle (OMV) formation in this anaerobe is also controlled by DNA inversions at two distantly localized promoters, IVp-I and IVp-II that are associated with extracellular polysaccharide biosynthesis and the expression of outer membrane proteins. These promoter inversions are mediated by a single tyrosine recombinase encoded by BF2766 (orthologous to tsr19 in strain NCTC9343) in B. fragilis YCH46, which is located near IVp-I. A series of BF2766 mutants were constructed in which the two promoters were locked in different configurations (IVp-I/IVp-II = ON/ON, OFF/OFF, ON/OFF or OFF/ON). ON/ON B. fragilis mutants exhibited hypervesiculating, whereas the other mutants formed only a trace amount of OMVs. The hypervesiculating ON/ON mutants showed higher resistance to treatment with bile, LL-37, and human β-defensin 2. Incubation of wild-type cells with 5% bile increased the population of cells with the ON/ON genotype. These results indicate that B. fragilis regulates the formation of OMVs through DNA inversions at two distantly related promoter regions in response to membrane stress, although the mechanism underlying the interplay between the two regions controlled by the invertible promoters remains unknown.
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