Prophages integrating into prophages: A mechanism to accumulate type III secretion effector genes and duplicate Shiga toxinencoding prophages in Escherichia coli

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Abstract

Bacteriophages (or phages) play major roles in the evolution of bacterial pathogens via horizontal gene transfer. Multiple phages are often integrated in a host chromosome as prophages, not only carrying various novel virulence-related genetic determinants into host bacteria but also providing various possibilities for prophage-prophage interactions in bacterial cells. In particular, Escherichia coli strains such as Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing E. coli (STEC) and enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) strains have acquired more than 10 prophages (up to 21 prophages), many of which encode type III secretion system (T3SS) effector gene clusters. In these strains, some prophages are present at a single locus in tandem, which is usually interpreted as the integration of phages that use the same attachment (att) sequence. Here, we present phages integrating into T3SS effector gene cluster-associated loci in prophages, which are widely distributed in STEC and EPEC. Some of the phages integrated into prophages are Stx-encoding phages (Stx phages) and have induced the duplication of Stx phages in a single cell. The identified attB sequences in prophage genomes are apparently derived from host chromosomes. In addition, two or three different attB sequences are present in some prophages, which results in the generation of prophage clusters in various complex configurations. These phages integrating into prophages represent a medically and biologically important type of inter-phage interaction that promotes the accumulation of T3SS effector genes in STEC and EPEC, the duplication of Stx phages in STEC, and the conversion of EPEC to STEC and that may be distributed in other types of E. coli strains as well as other prophage-rich bacterial species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009073
JournalPLoS pathogens
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 29 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology

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