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Thermoregulation of virulence genes in bacterial pathogens is essential for environment-to-host transition. However, the mechanisms governing cold adaptation when outside the host remain poorly understood. Here, we found that the production of cold shock proteins CspB and CspC from Staphylococcus aureus is controlled by two paralogous RNA thermoswitches. Through in silico prediction, enzymatic probing and site-directed mutagenesis, we demonstrated that cspB and cspC 5'UTRs adopt alternative RNA structures that shift from one another upon temperature shifts. The open (O) conformation that facilitates mRNA translation is favoured at ambient temperatures (22°C). Conversely, the alternative locked (L) conformation, where the ribosome binding site (RBS) is sequestered in a double-stranded RNA structure, is folded at host-related temperatures (37°C). These structural rearrangements depend on a long RNA hairpin found in the O conformation that sequesters the anti-RBS sequence. Notably, the remaining S. aureus CSP, CspA, may interact with a UUUGUUU motif located in the loop of this long hairpin and favour the folding of the L conformation. This folding represses CspB and CspC production at 37°C. Simultaneous deletion of the cspB/cspC genes or their RNA thermoswitches significantly decreases S. aureus growth rate at ambient temperatures, highlighting the importance of CspB/CspC thermoregulation when S. aureus transitions from the host to the environment. © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.


Arancha Catalan-Moreno, Marta Cela, Pilar Menendez-Gil, Naiara Irurzun, Carlos J Caballero, Isabelle Caldelari, Alejandro Toledo-Arana. RNA thermoswitches modulate Staphylococcus aureus adaptation to ambient temperatures. Nucleic acids research. 2021 Apr 06;49(6):3409-3426

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PMID: 33660769

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