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    Clostridium tetani produces the tetanus toxin (TeNT), one of the most powerful bacterial toxins known to humankind and responsible for tetanus. The regulation of toxin expression is complex and involves the alternative sigma factor TetR as well as other regulators. Here, a transcriptional analysis of the TeNT-encoding large plasmid of C. tetani identified a putative non-coding small RNA (sRNA), located in close vicinity of the 3' untranslated region of the tent gene. A northern blot experiment could identify a respective sRNA with a size of approx. 140 nucleotides. Sequence analysis showed that the sRNA contains a 14-nucleotide region that is complementary to a 5' located region of tent. In order to investigate the function of the sRNA, we applied a RNA interference approach targeting the sRNA in two C. tetani wild-type strains; the constructed antisense C. tetani strains showed an approx. threefold increase in both extracellular and total TeNT production compared to the respective wild-type strains. In addition, recombinant C. tetani strains were constructed that contained tent-locus harboring plasmids with and without the sRNA. However, the introduction of the tent-locus without the sRNA in a C. tetani strain lacking the wild-type TeNT-encoding large plasmid resulted in a lower TeNT production compared to the same strain with recombinant tent-locus with the sRNA. This suggests that the expression or the effect of the sRNA is modulated by the C. tetani genetic background, notably that of the wild-type TeNT-encoding large plasmid. In addition, some recombinant strains exhibited modulated growth patterns, characterized by premature bacterial cell lysis. Taken together, our data indicate that the sRNA acts as a negative regulator of TeNT synthesis, with a possible impact on the growth of C. tetani. We hypothesize that the role of this sRNA is to limit toxin levels in the exponential growth phase in order to prevent premature bacterial lysis.


    Holger Brüggemann, Diana Chapeton-Montes, Lucile Plourde, Michel R Popoff. Identification of a non-coding RNA and its putative involvement in the regulation of tetanus toxin synthesis in Clostridium tetani. Scientific reports. 2021 Feb 18;11(1):4157

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    PMID: 33603121

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