Genome-wide transposon mutagenesis identifies a role for host neuroendocrine stress hormones in regulating the expression of virulence genes in Salmonella

H Spencer, M H Karavolos, D M Bulmer, P Aldridge, S R Chhabra, K Winzer, P Williams, C M A Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial sensing of environmental signals plays a key role in regulating virulence and mediating bacterium-host interactions. The sensing of the neuroendocrine stress hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) plays an important role in modulating bacterial virulence. We used MudJ transposon mutagenesis to globally screen for genes regulated by neuroendocrine stress hormones in Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium. We identified eight hormone-regulated genes, including yhaK, iroC, nrdF, accC, yedP, STM3081, and the virulence-related genes virK and mig14. The mammalian alpha-adrenergic receptor antagonist phentolamine reversed the hormone-mediated effects on yhaK, virK, and mig14 but did not affect the other genes. The beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol had no activity in these assays. The virK and mig14 genes are involved in antimicrobial peptide resistance, and phenotypic screens revealed that exposure to neuroendocrine hormones increased the sensitivity of S. Typhimurium to the antimicrobial peptide LL-37. A virK mutant and a virK mig14 double mutant also displayed increased sensitivity to LL-37. In contrast to enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), we have found no role for the two-component systems QseBC and QseEF in the adrenergic regulation of any of the identified genes. Furthermore, hormone-regulated gene expression could not be blocked by the QseC inhibitor LED209, suggesting that sensing of hormones is mediated through alternative signaling pathways in S. Typhimurium. This study has identified a role for host-derived neuroendocrine stress hormones in downregulating S. Typhimurium virulence gene expression to the benefit of the host, thus providing further insights into the field of host-pathogen communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)714-24
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Epinephrine
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutagenesis
  • Norepinephrine
  • Phentolamine
  • Propranolol
  • Salmonella typhimurium
  • Sulfonamides
  • Virulence


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