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Joseph (Joe) Dillard

Picture of Joseph (Joe) DillardProfessor of Medical Microbiology & Immunology
4157 Microbial Sciences Building
1550 Linden Drive
Office: (608) 265-2837
Laboratory: 265-0489
Email: jpdillard@wisc.edu
Overview · Personnel · Publications
  • Ragland SA, Schaub RE, Hackett KT, Dillard JP, Criss AK (2017) Two lytic transglycosylases in Neisseria gonorrhoeae impart resistance to killing by lysozyme and human neutrophils. Cell. Microbiol. 19(3): (PMC5303151) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Symptomatic infection by Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gc) produces a potent inflammatory response, resulting in a neutrophil-rich exudate. A population of Gc can survive the killing activities of neutrophils for reasons not completely understood. Unlike other Gram-negative bacteria, Gc releases monomeric peptidoglycan (PG) extracellularly, dependent on two nonessential, nonredundant lytic transglycosylases (LTs), LtgA and LtgD. PG released by LtgA and LtgD can stimulate host immune responses. We report that ΔltgAΔltgD Gc were decreased in survival in the presence of primary human neutrophils but otherwise grew equally to wild-type Gc. Adding PG monomer failed to alter ΔltgAΔltgD Gc survival. Thus, LTs protect Gc from neutrophils independently of monomer release. We found two reasons to explain decreased survival of the double LT mutant. First, ΔltgAΔltgD Gc was more sensitive to the neutrophil antimicrobial proteins lysozyme and neutrophil elastase, but not others. Sensitivity to lysozyme correlated with decreased Gc envelope integrity. Second, exposure of neutrophils to ΔltgAΔltgD Gc increased the release of neutrophil granule contents extracellularly and into Gc phagosomes. We conclude that LtgA and LtgD protect Gc from neutrophils by contributing to envelope integrity and limiting bacterial exposure to select granule-localized antimicrobial proteins. These observations are the first to link bacterial degradation by lysozyme to increased neutrophil activation.

  • Harrison OB, Clemence M, Dillard JP, Tang CM, Trees D, Grad YH, Maiden MC (2016) Genomic analyses of Neisseria gonorrhoeae reveal an association of the gonococcal genetic island with antimicrobial resistance. J. Infect. 73(6):578-587 (PMC5127880) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens our ability to treat the sexually transmitted bacterial infection gonorrhoea. The increasing availability of whole genome sequence (WGS) data from Neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates, however, provides us with an opportunity in which WGS can be mined for AMR determinants. Chromosomal and plasmid genes implicated in AMR were catalogued on the PubMLST Neisseria database (http://pubmlst.org/neisseria). AMR genotypes were identified in WGS from 289 gonococci for which MICs against several antimicrobial compounds had been determined. Whole genome comparisons were undertaken using whole genome MLST (wgMLST). Clusters of isolates with distinct AMR genotypes were apparent following wgMLST analysis consistent with the occurrence of genome wide genetic variation. This included the presence of the gonococcal genetic island (GGI), a type 4 secretion system shown to increase recombination and for which possession was significantly associated with AMR to multiple antimicrobials. Evolution of the gonococcal genome occurs in response to antimicrobial selective pressure resulting in the formation of distinct N. gonorrhoeae populations evidenced by the wgMLST clusters seen here. Genomic islands offer selective advantages to host bacteria and possession of the GGI may, not only facilitate the spread of AMR in gonococcal populations, but may also confer fitness advantages.

  • Schaub RE, Chan YA, Lee M, Hesek D, Mobashery S, Dillard JP (2016) Lytic transglycosylases LtgA and LtgD perform distinct roles in remodeling, recycling and releasing peptidoglycan in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Mol. Microbiol. 102(5):865-881 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae releases peptidoglycan (PG) fragments during infection that provoke a large inflammatory response and, in pelvic inflammatory disease, this response leads to the death and sloughing of ciliated cells of the Fallopian tube. We characterized the biochemical functions and localization of two enzymes responsible for the release of proinflammatory PG fragments. The putative lytic transglycosylases LtgA and LtgD were shown to create the 1,6-anhydromuramyl moieties, and both enzymes were able to digest a small, synthetic tetrasaccharide dipeptide PG fragment into the cognate 1,6-anhydromuramyl-containing reaction products. Degradation of tetrasaccharide PG fragments by LtgA is the first demonstration of a family 1 lytic transglycosylase exhibiting this activity. Pulse-chase experiments in gonococci demonstrated that LtgA produces a larger amount of PG fragments than LtgD, and a vast majority of these fragments are recycled. In contrast, LtgD was necessary for wild-type levels of PG precursor incorporation and produced fragments predominantly released from the cell. Additionally, super-resolution microscopy established that LtgA localizes to the septum, whereas LtgD is localized around the cell. This investigation suggests a model where LtgD produces PG monomers in such a way that these fragments are released, whereas LtgA creates fragments that are mostly taken into the cytoplasm for recycling.

  • Chan JM, Dillard JP (2016) Neisseria gonorrhoeae Crippled Its Peptidoglycan Fragment Permease To Facilitate Toxic Peptidoglycan Monomer Release. J. Bacteriol. 198(21):3029-3040 (PMC5055606) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonococci) and Neisseria meningitidis (meningococci) are human pathogens that cause gonorrhea and meningococcal meningitis, respectively. Both N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis release a number of small peptidoglycan (PG) fragments, including proinflammatory PG monomers, although N. meningitidis releases fewer PG monomers. The PG fragments released by N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis are generated in the periplasm during cell wall remodeling, and a majority of these fragments are transported into the cytoplasm by an inner membrane permease, AmpG; however, a portion of the PG fragments are released into the extracellular environment through unknown mechanisms. We previously reported that the expression of meningococcal ampG in N. gonorrhoeae reduced PG monomer release by gonococci. This finding suggested that the efficiency of AmpG-mediated PG fragment recycling regulates the amount of PG fragments released into the extracellular milieu. We determined that three AmpG residues near the C-terminal end of the protein modulate AmpG's efficiency. We also investigated the association between PG fragment recycling and release in two species of human-associated nonpathogenic Neisseria: N. sicca and N. mucosa Both N. sicca and N. mucosa release lower levels of PG fragments and are more efficient at recycling PG fragments than N. gonorrhoeae Our results suggest that N. gonorrhoeae has evolved to increase the amounts of toxic PG fragments released by reducing its PG recycling efficiency. Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis are human pathogens that cause highly inflammatory diseases, although N. meningitidis is also frequently found as a normal member of the nasopharyngeal microbiota. Nonpathogenic Neisseria, such as N. sicca and N. mucosa, also colonize the nasopharynx without causing disease. Although all four species release peptidoglycan fragments, N. gonorrhoeae is the least efficient at recycling and releases the largest amount of proinflammatory peptidoglycan monomers, partly due to differences in the recycling permease AmpG. Studying the interplay between bacterial physiology (peptidoglycan metabolism) and pathogenesis (release of toxic monomers) leads to an increased understanding of how different bacterial species maintain asymptomatic colonization or cause disease and may contribute to efforts to mitigate disease.

  • Dillard JP, Li R, Huang Y (2016) Threat Appeals: The Fear-Persuasion Relationship is Linear and Curvilinear. Health Commun :1-10 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Drive theory may be seen as the first scientific theory of health and risk communication. However, its prediction of a curvilinear association between fear and persuasion is generally held to be incorrect. A close rereading of Hovland et al. reveals that within- and between-persons processes were conflated. Using a message that advocated obtaining a screening for colonoscopy, this study (N = 259) tested both forms of the inverted-U hypothesis. In the between-persons data, analyses revealed a linear effect that was consistent with earlier investigations. However, the data showed an inverted-U relationship in within-persons data. Hence, the relationship between fear and persuasion is linear or curvilinear depending on the level of analysis.

  • Dillard JP, Ha Y (2016) Interpreting Perceived Effectiveness: Understanding and Addressing the Problem of Mean Validity. J Health Commun 21(9):1016-22 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Research has shown that perceived message effectiveness (PE) correlates reasonably well with indices of actual effectiveness, but little attention has been given to how to interpret mean PE. This article describes the problem of mean validity and presents a research design that can be used to address it. Participants (N = 195) viewed messages that advocated being screened for colorectal cancer. The results showed downward bias in PE among members of the non-target audience (persons younger than 50) and upward bias as the referent for the judgment became more abstract/distant (self vs. persons older than 50 vs. general). The need for more research on mean validity is discussed. For applied researchers, recommendations for preferred indices of PE are offered.

  • Andrade WA, Agarwal S, Mo S, Shaffer SA, Dillard JP, Schmidt T, Hornung V, Fitzgerald KA, Kurt-Jones EA, Golenbock DT (2016) Type I Interferon Induction by Neisseria gonorrhoeae: Dual Requirement of Cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase and Toll-like Receptor 4. Cell Rep 15(11):2438-48 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The innate immune system is the first line of defense against Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC). Exposure of cells to GC lipooligosaccharides induces a strong immune response, leading to type I interferon (IFN) production via TLR4/MD-2. In addition to living freely in the extracellular space, GC can invade the cytoplasm to evade detection and elimination. Double-stranded DNA introduced into the cytosol binds and activates the enzyme cyclic-GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS), which produces 2'3'-cGAMP and triggers STING/TBK-1/IRF3 activation, resulting in type I IFN expression. Here, we reveal a cytosolic response to GC DNA that also contributes to type I IFN induction. We demonstrate that complete IFN-β induction by live GC depends on both cGAS and TLR4. Type I IFN is detrimental to the host, and dysregulation of iron homeostasis genes may explain lower bacteria survival in cGAS(-/-) and TLR4(-/-) cells. Collectively, these observations reveal cooperation between TLRs and cGAS in immunity to GC infection.

  • Schaub RE, Lenz JD, Dillard JP (2016) Analysis of Peptidoglycan Fragment Release. Methods Mol. Biol. 1440:185-200 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Most bacteria break down a significant portion of their cell wall peptidoglycan during each round of growth and cell division. This process generates peptidoglycan fragments of various sizes that can either be imported back into the cytoplasm for recycling or released from the cell. Released fragments have been shown to act as microbe-associated molecular patterns for the initiation of immune responses, as triggers for the initiation of mutualistic host-microbe relationships, and as signals for cell-cell communication in bacteria. Characterizing these released peptidoglycan fragments can, therefore, be considered an important step in understanding how microbes communicate with other organisms in their environments. In this chapter, we describe methods for labeling cell wall peptidoglycan, calculating the rate at which peptidoglycan is turned over, and collecting released peptidoglycan to determine the abundance and species of released fragments. Methods are described for both the separation of peptidoglycan fragments by size-exclusion chromatography and further detailed analysis by HPLC.

  • Lenz JD, Stohl EA, Robertson RM, Hackett KT, Fisher K, Xiong K, Lee M, Hesek D, Mobashery S, Seifert HS, Davies C, Dillard JP (2016) Amidase Activity of AmiC Controls Cell Separation and Stem Peptide Release and Is Enhanced by NlpD in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J. Biol. Chem. 291(20):10916-33 (PMC4865936) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The human-restricted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae encodes a single N-acetylmuramyl-l-alanine amidase involved in cell separation (AmiC), as compared with three largely redundant cell separation amidases found in Escherichia coli (AmiA, AmiB, and AmiC). Deletion of amiC from N. gonorrhoeae results in severely impaired cell separation and altered peptidoglycan (PG) fragment release, but little else is known about how AmiC functions in gonococci. Here, we demonstrated that gonococcal AmiC can act on macromolecular PG to liberate cross-linked and non-cross-linked peptides indicative of amidase activity, and we provided the first evidence that a cell separation amidase can utilize a small synthetic PG fragment as substrate (GlcNAc-MurNAc(pentapeptide)-GlcNAc-MurNAc(pentapeptide)). An investigation of two residues in the active site of AmiC revealed that Glu-229 is critical for both normal cell separation and the release of PG fragments by gonococci during growth. In contrast, Gln-316 has an autoinhibitory role, and its mutation to lysine resulted in an AmiC with increased enzymatic activity on macromolecular PG and on the synthetic PG derivative. Curiously, the same Q316K mutation that increased AmiC activity also resulted in cell separation and PG fragment release defects, indicating that activation state is not the only factor determining normal AmiC activity. In addition to displaying high basal activity on PG, gonococcal AmiC can utilize metal ions other than the zinc cofactor typically used by cell separation amidases, potentially protecting its ability to function in zinc-limiting environments. Thus gonococcal AmiC has distinct differences from related enzymes, and these studies revealed parameters for how AmiC functions in cell separation and PG fragment release.

  • Bhoopalan SV, Piekarowicz A, Lenz JD, Dillard JP, Stein DC (2016) nagZ Triggers Gonococcal Biofilm Disassembly. Sci Rep 6:22372 (PMC4772129) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Bacterial-bacterial interactions play a critical role in promoting biofilm formation. Here we show that NagZ, a protein associated with peptidoglycan recycling, has moonlighting activity that allows it to modulate biofilm accumulation by Neisseria gonorrhoeae. We characterize the biochemical properties of NagZ and demonstrate its ability to function as a dispersing agent for biofilms formed on abiotic surfaces. We extend these observations to cell culture and tissue explant models and show that in nagZ mutants, the biofilms formed in cell culture and on human tissues contain significantly more biomass than those formed by a wild-type strain. Our results demonstrate that an enzyme thought to be restricted to peptidoglycan recycling is able to disperse preformed biofilms.

  • Stohl EA, Lenz JD, Dillard JP, Seifert HS (2015) The Gonococcal NlpD Protein Facilitates Cell Separation by Activating Peptidoglycan Cleavage by AmiC. J. Bacteriol. 198(4):615-22 (PMC4751805) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Key steps in bacterial cell division are the synthesis and subsequent hydrolysis of septal peptidoglycan (PG), which allow efficient separation of daughter cells. Extensive studies in the Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium Escherichia coli have revealed that this hydrolysis is highly regulated spatially and temporally. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is an obligate Gram-negative, diplococcal pathogen and is the only causative agent of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. We investigated how cell separation proceeds in this diplococcal organism. We demonstrated that deletion of the nlpD gene in strain FA1090 leads to poor growth and to an altered colony and cell morphology. An isopropyl-beta-d-galactopyranoside (IPTG)-regulated nlpD complemented construct can restore these defects only when IPTG is supplied in the growth medium. Thin-section transmission electron microscopy (TEM) revealed that the nlpD mutant strain grew in large clumps containing live and dead bacteria, which was consistent with deficient cell separation. Biochemical analyses of purified NlpD protein showed that it was able to bind purified PG. Finally, we showed that, although NlpD has no hydrolase activity itself, NlpD potentiates the hydrolytic activity of AmiC. These results indicate that N. gonorrhoeae NlpD is required for proper cell growth and division through its interactions with the amidase AmiC. N. gonorrhoeae is the sole causative agent of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. The incidence of antibiotic-resistant gonococcal infections has risen sharply in recent years, and N. gonorrhoeae has been classified as a "superbug" by the CDC. Since there is a dearth of new antibiotics to combat gonococcal infections, elucidating the essential cellular process of N. gonorrhoeae may point to new targets for antimicrobial therapies. Cell division and separation is one such essential process. We identified and characterized the gonococcal nlpD gene and showed that it is essential for cell separation. In contrast to other pathogenic bacteria, the gonococcal system is streamlined and does not appear to have any redundancies.

  • Krasity BC, Troll JV, Lehnert EM, Hackett KT, Dillard JP, Apicella MA, Goldman WE, Weiss JP, McFall-Ngai MJ (2015) Structural and functional features of a developmentally regulated lipopolysaccharide-binding protein. MBio 6(5):e01193-15 (PMC4620459) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Mammalian lipopolysaccharide (LPS) binding proteins (LBPs) occur mainly in extracellular fluids and promote LPS delivery to specific host cell receptors. The function of LBPs has been studied principally in the context of host defense; the possible role of LBPs in nonpathogenic host-microbe interactions has not been well characterized. Using the Euprymna scolopes-Vibrio fischeri model, we analyzed the structure and function of an LBP family protein, E. scolopes LBP1 (EsLBP1), and provide evidence for its role in triggering a symbiont-induced host developmental program. Previous studies showed that, during initial host colonization, the LPS of V. fischeri synergizes with peptidoglycan (PGN) monomer to induce morphogenesis of epithelial tissues of the host animal. Computationally modeled EsLBP1 shares some but not all structural features of mammalian LBPs that are thought important for LPS binding. Similar to human LBP, recombinant EsLBP1 expressed in insect cells bound V. fischeri LPS and Neisseria meningitidis lipooligosaccharide (LOS) with nanomolar or greater affinity but bound Francisella tularensis LPS only weakly and did not bind PGN monomer. Unlike human LBP, EsLBP1 did not bind N. meningitidis LOS:CD14 complexes. The eslbp1 transcript was upregulated ~22-fold by V. fischeri at 24 h postinoculation. Surprisingly, this upregulation was not induced by exposure to LPS but, rather, to the PGN monomer alone. Hybridization chain reaction-fluorescent in situ hybridization (HCR-FISH) and immunocytochemistry (ICC) localized eslbp1 transcript and protein in crypt epithelia, where V. fischeri induces morphogenesis. The data presented here provide a window into the evolution of LBPs and the scope of their roles in animal symbioses. Mammalian lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-binding protein (LBP) is implicated in conveying LPS to host cells and potentiating its signaling activity. In certain disease states, such as obesity, the overproduction of this protein has been a reliable biomarker of chronic inflammation. Here, we describe a symbiosis-induced invertebrate LBP whose tertiary structure and LPS-binding characteristics are similar to those of mammalian LBPs; however, the primary structure of this distantly related squid protein (EsLBP1) differs in key residues previously believed to be essential for LPS binding, suggesting that an alternative strategy exists. Surprisingly, symbiotic expression of eslbp1 is induced by peptidoglycan derivatives, not LPS, a pattern converse to that of RegIIIγ, an important mammalian immunity protein that binds peptidoglycan but whose gene expression is induced by LPS. Finally, EsLBP1 occurs along the apical surfaces of all the host's epithelia, suggesting that it was recruited from a general defensive role to one that mediates specific interactions with its symbiont.

  • Ramsey ME, Bender T, Klimowicz AK, Hackett KT, Yamamoto A, Jolicoeur A, Callaghan MM, Wassarman KM, van der Does C, Dillard JP (2015) Targeted mutagenesis of intergenic regions in the Neisseria gonorrhoeae gonococcal genetic island reveals multiple regulatory mechanisms controlling type IV secretion. Mol. Microbiol. 97(6):1168-85 (PMC4652943) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Gonococci secrete chromosomal DNA into the extracellular environment using a type IV secretion system (T4SS). The secreted DNA acts in natural transformation and initiates biofilm development. Although the DNA and its effects are detectable, structural components of the T4SS are present at very low levels, suggestive of uncharacterized regulatory control. We sought to better characterize the expression and regulation of T4SS genes and found that the four operons containing T4SS genes are transcribed at very different levels. Increasing transcription of two of the operons through targeted promoter mutagenesis did not increase DNA secretion. The stability and steady-state levels of two T4SS structural proteins were affected by a homolog of tail-specific protease. An RNA switch was also identified that regulates translation of a third T4SS operon. The switch mechanism relies on two putative stem-loop structures contained within the 5' untranslated region of the transcript, one of which occludes the ribosome binding site and start codon. Mutational analysis of these stem loops supports a model in which induction of an alternative structure relieves repression. Taken together, these results identify multiple layers of regulation, including transcriptional, translational and post-translational mechanisms controlling T4SS gene expression and DNA secretion.

  • Pachulec E, Siewering K, Bender T, Heller EM, Salgado-Pabon W, Schmoller SK, Woodhams KL, Dillard JP, van der Does C (2014) Functional analysis of the Gonococcal Genetic Island of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. PLoS ONE 9(10):e109613 (PMC4207684) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae is an obligate human pathogen that is responsible for the sexually-transmitted disease gonorrhea. N. gonorrhoeae encodes a T4SS within the Gonococcal Genetic Island (GGI), which secretes ssDNA directly into the external milieu. Type IV secretion systems (T4SSs) play a role in horizontal gene transfer and delivery of effector molecules into target cells. We demonstrate that GGI-like T4SSs are present in other β-proteobacteria, as well as in α- and γ-proteobacteria. Sequence comparison of GGI-like T4SSs reveals that the GGI-like T4SSs form a highly conserved unit that can be found located both on chromosomes and on plasmids. To better understand the mechanism of DNA secretion by N. gonorrhoeae, we performed mutagenesis of all genes encoded within the GGI, and studied the effects of these mutations on DNA secretion. We show that genes required for DNA secretion are encoded within the yaa-atlA and parA-parB regions, while genes encoded in the yfeB-exp1 region could be deleted without any effect on DNA secretion. Genes essential for DNA secretion are encoded within at least four different operons.

  • Ramsey ME, Hackett KT, Bender T, Kotha C, van der Does C, Dillard JP (2014) TraK and TraB are conserved outer membrane proteins of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae Type IV secretion system and are expressed at low levels in wild-type cells. J. Bacteriol. 196(16):2954-68 (PMC4135638) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae uses a type IV secretion system (T4SS) to secrete chromosomal DNA into the medium, and this DNA is effective in transforming other gonococci via natural transformation. In addition, the T4SS is important in the initial stages of biofilm development and mediates intracellular iron uptake in the absence of TonB. To better understand the mechanism of type IV secretion in N. gonorrhoeae, we examined the expression levels and localization of two predicted T4SS outer membrane proteins, TraK and TraB, in the wild-type strain as well as in overexpression strains and in a strain lacking all of the T4SS proteins. Despite very low sequence similarity to known homologues, TraB (VirB10 homolog) and TraK (VirB9 homolog) localized similarly to related proteins in other systems. Additionally, we found that TraV (a VirB7 homolog) interacts with TraK, as in other T4SSs. However, unlike in other systems, neither TraK nor TraB required the presence of other T4SS components for proper localization. Unlike other gonococcal T4SS proteins we have investigated, protein levels of the outer membrane proteins TraK and TraB were extremely low in wild-type cells and were undetectable by Western blotting unless overexpressed or tagged with a FLAG3 triple-epitope tag. Localization of TraK-FLAG3 in otherwise wild-type cells using immunogold electron microscopy of thin sections revealed a single gold particle on some cells. These results suggest that the gonococcal T4SS may be present in single copy per cell and that small amounts of T4SS proteins TraK and TraB are sufficient for DNA secretion.

  • Woodhams KL, Chan JM, Lenz JD, Hackett KT, Dillard JP (2013) Peptidoglycan fragment release from Neisseria meningitidis. Infect. Immun. 81(9):3490-8 (PMC3754221) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) is a symbiont of the human nasopharynx. On occasion, meningococci disseminate from the nasopharynx to cause invasive disease. Previous work showed that purified meningococcal peptidoglycan (PG) stimulates human Nod1, which leads to activation of NF-κB and production of inflammatory cytokines. No studies have determined if meningococci release PG or activate Nod1 during infection. The closely related pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae releases PG fragments during normal growth. These fragments induce inflammatory cytokine production and ciliated cell death in human fallopian tubes. We determined that meningococci also release PG fragments during growth, including fragments known to induce inflammation. We found that N. meningitidis recycles PG fragments via the selective permease AmpG and that meningococcal PG recycling is more efficient than gonococcal PG recycling. Comparison of PG fragment release from N. meningitidis and N. gonorrhoeae showed that meningococci release less of the proinflammatory PG monomers than gonococci and degrade PG to smaller fragments. The decreased release of PG monomers by N. meningitidis relative to N. gonorrhoeae is partly due to ampG, since replacement of gonococcal ampG with the meningococcal allele reduced PG monomer release. Released PG fragments in meningococcal supernatants induced significantly less Nod1-dependent NF-κB activity than released fragments in gonococcal supernatants and tended to induce less interleukin-8 (IL-8) secretion in primary human fallopian tube explants. These results support a model in which efficient PG recycling and extensive degradation of PG fragments lessen inflammatory responses and may be advantageous for maintaining meningococcal carriage in the nasopharynx.

  • Kohler PL, Chan YA, Hackett KT, Turner N, Hamilton HL, Cloud-Hansen KA, Dillard JP (2013) Mating pair formation homologue TraG is a variable membrane protein essential for contact-independent type IV secretion of chromosomal DNA by Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J. Bacteriol. 195(8):1666-79 (PMC3624559) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae uses a type IV secretion system (T4SS) to secrete chromosomal DNA into the surrounding milieu. The DNA is effective in transforming gonococci in the population, and this mechanism of DNA donation may contribute to the high degree of genetic diversity in this species. Similar to other F-like T4SSs, the gonococcal T4SS requires a putative membrane protein, TraG, for DNA transfer. In F-plasmid and related systems, the homologous protein acts in pilus production, mating pair stabilization, and entry exclusion. We characterized the localization, membrane topology, and variation of TraG in N. gonorrhoeae. TraG was found to be an inner-membrane protein with one large periplasmic region and one large cytoplasmic region. Each gonococcal strain carried one of three different alleles of traG. Strains that carried the smallest allele of traG were found to lack the peptidoglycanase gene atlA but carried a peptidoglycan endopeptidase gene in place of atlA. The purified endopeptidase degraded gonococcal peptidoglycan in vitro, cutting the peptide cross-links. Although the other two traG alleles functioned for DNA secretion in strain MS11, the smallest traG did not support DNA secretion. Despite the requirement for a mating pair stabilization homologue, static coculture transformation experiments demonstrated that DNA transfer was nuclease sensitive and required active uptake by the recipient, thus demonstrating that transfer occurred by transformation and not conjugation. Together, these results demonstrate the TraG acts in a process of DNA export not specific to conjugation and that different forms of TraG affect what substrates can be transported.

  • Chan YA, Hackett KT, Dillard JP (2012) The lytic transglycosylases of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Microb. Drug Resist. 18(3):271-9 (PMC3412582) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae encodes five lytic transglycosylases (LTs) in the core genome, and most gonococcal strains also carry the gonococcal genetic island that encodes one or two additional LTs. These peptidoglycan (PG)-degrading enzymes are required for a number of processes that are either involved in the normal growth of the bacteria or affect the pathogenesis and gene transfer aspects of this species that make N. gonorrhoeae highly inflammatory and highly genetically variable. Systematic mutagenesis determined that two LTs are involved in producing the 1,6-anhydro PG monomers that cause the death of ciliated cells in Fallopian tubes. Here, we review the information available on these enzymes and discuss their roles in bacterial growth, cell separation, autolysis, type IV secretion, and pathogenesis.

  • Woodhams KL, Benet ZL, Blonsky SE, Hackett KT, Dillard JP (2012) Prevalence and detailed mapping of the gonococcal genetic island in Neisseria meningitidis. J. Bacteriol. 194(9):2275-85 (PMC3347088) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The 57-kb gonococcal genetic island (GGI) encodes a type IV secretion system (T4SS) that is found in most strains of N. gonorrhoeae. This T4SS functions to secrete single-stranded DNA that is active in natural transformation. The GGI has also been found in some strains of N. meningitidis. We screened 126 isolates of N. meningitidis and found the GGI in 17.5% of strains, with the prevalence varying widely among serogroups. The GGI is found in a significant number of serogroup C, W-135, and X strains but was not found in strains of serogroup A, B, or Y. Through detailed PCR mapping and DNA sequencing, we identified five distinct GGI types in meningococci. DNA sequencing and a genetic assay revealed that the GGI was likely integrated into the meningococcal chromosome by the site-specific recombinase XerCD and that the GGI can be excised and lost from the genome. Functional studies showed that in contrast with the gonococcal T4SS, the meningococcal T4SS does not secrete DNA, nor does it confer Ton-independent intracellular survival. Deletion of T4SS genes did not affect association with or invasion of host cells. These results demonstrate that the GGI is found in a significant proportion of meningococcal strains and that while some strains carry multiple insertions and deletions in the GGI, other strains carry intact T4SS genes and may produce functional secretion systems.

  • Ramsey ME, Hackett KT, Kotha C, Dillard JP (2012) New complementation constructs for inducible and constitutive gene expression in Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78(9):3068-78 (PMC3346468) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    We have created new complementation constructs for use in Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis. The constructs contain regions of homology with the chromosome and direct the insertion of a gene of interest into the intergenic region between the genes iga and trpB. In order to increase the available options for gene expression in Neisseria, we designed the constructs to contain one of three different promoters. One of the constructs contains the isopropyl-β-d-thiogalactopyranoside-inducible lac promoter, which has been widely used in Neisseria. We also designed a construct that contains the strong, constitutive promoter from the gonococcal opaB gene. The third construct contains a tetracycline-inducible promoter, a novel use of this promoter in Neisseria. We demonstrate that anhydrotetracycline can be used to induce gene expression in the pathogenic Neisseria at very low concentrations and without negatively affecting the growth of the organisms. We use these constructs to complement an arginine auxotrophy in N. gonorrhoeae as well as to express a translational fusion of alkaline phosphatase with TraW. TraW is a component of the gonococcal type IV secretion system, and we demonstrate that TraW localizes to the periplasm.

  • Jain S, Zweig M, Peeters E, Siewering K, Hackett KT, Dillard JP, van der Does C (2012) Characterization of the single stranded DNA binding protein SsbB encoded in the Gonoccocal Genetic Island. PLoS ONE 7(4):e35285 (PMC3334931) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Most strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae carry a Gonococcal Genetic Island which encodes a type IV secretion system involved in the secretion of ssDNA. We characterize the GGI-encoded ssDNA binding protein, SsbB. Close homologs of SsbB are located within a conserved genetic cluster found in genetic islands of different proteobacteria. This cluster encodes DNA-processing enzymes such as the ParA and ParB partitioning proteins, the TopB topoisomerase, and four conserved hypothetical proteins. The SsbB homologs found in these clusters form a family separated from other ssDNA binding proteins. In contrast to most other SSBs, SsbB did not complement the Escherichia coli ssb deletion mutant. Purified SsbB forms a stable tetramer. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays and fluorescence titration assays, as well as atomic force microscopy demonstrate that SsbB binds ssDNA specifically with high affinity. SsbB binds single-stranded DNA with minimal binding frames for one or two SsbB tetramers of 15 and 70 nucleotides. The binding mode was independent of increasing Mg(2+) or NaCl concentrations. No role of SsbB in ssDNA secretion or DNA uptake could be identified, but SsbB strongly stimulated Topoisomerase I activity. We propose that these novel SsbBs play an unknown role in the maintenance of genetic islands.

  • Stohl EA, Chan YA, Hackett KT, Kohler PL, Dillard JP, Seifert HS (2012) Neisseria gonorrhoeae virulence factor NG1686 is a bifunctional M23B family metallopeptidase that influences resistance to hydrogen peroxide and colony morphology. J. Biol. Chem. 287(14):11222-33 (PMC3322868) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Symptomatic gonococcal infection, caused exclusively by the human-specific pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the gonococcus), is characterized by the influx of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) to the site of infection. Although PMNs possess a potent antimicrobial arsenal comprising both oxidative and non-oxidative killing mechanisms, gonococci survive this interaction, suggesting that the gonococcus has evolved many defenses against PMN killing. We previously identified the NG1686 protein as a gonococcal virulence factor that protects against both non-oxidative PMN-mediated killing and oxidative killing by hydrogen peroxide. In this work, we show that deletion of ng1686 affects gonococcal colony morphology but not cell morphology and that overexpression of ng1686 does not confer enhanced survival to hydrogen peroxide on gonococci. NG1686 contains M23B endopeptidase active sites found in proteins that cleave bacterial cell wall peptidoglycan. Strains of N. gonorrhoeae expressing mutant NG1686 proteins with substitutions in many, but not all, conserved metallopeptidase active sites recapitulated the hydrogen peroxide sensitivity and altered colony morphology of the Δng1686 mutant strain. We showed that purified NG1686 protein degrades peptidoglycan in vitro and that mutations in many conserved active site residues abolished its degradative activity. Finally, we demonstrated that NG1686 possesses both dd-carboxypeptidase and endopeptidase activities. We conclude that the NG1686 protein is a M23B peptidase with dual activities that targets the cell wall to affect colony morphology and resistance to hydrogen peroxide and PMN-mediated killing.

  • Dillard JP (2011) Genetic Manipulation of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Curr Protoc Microbiol Chapter 4:Unit4A.2 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The sexually transmitted pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, undergoes natural transformation at high frequency. This property has led to the rapid dissemination of antibiotic resistance markers and to the panmictic structure of the gonococcal population. However, high-frequency transformation also makes N. gonorrhoeae one of the easiest bacterial species to manipulate genetically in the laboratory. Techniques have been developed that result in transformation frequencies >50%, allowing the identification of mutants by screening and without selection. Constructs have been created to take advantage of this high-frequency transformation, facilitating genetic mutation, complementation, and heterologous gene expression. Techniques are described for genetic manipulation of N. gonorrhoeae, as well as for growth of this fastidious organism.

  • Ramsey ME, Woodhams KL, Dillard JP (2011) The Gonococcal Genetic Island and Type IV Secretion in the Pathogenic Neisseria. Front Microbiol 2:61 (PMC3153036) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Eighty percent of Neisseria gonorrhoeae strains and some Neisseria meningitidis strains encode a 57-kb gonococcal genetic island (GGI). The GGI was horizontally acquired and is inserted in the chromosome at the replication terminus. The GGI is flanked by direct repeats, and site-specific recombination at these sites results in excision of the GGI and may be responsible for its original acquisition. Although the role of the GGI in N. meningitidis is unclear, the GGI in N. gonorrhoeae encodes a type IV secretion system (T4SS). T4SS are versatile multi-protein complexes and include both conjugation systems as well as effector systems that translocate either proteins or DNA-protein complexes. In N. gonorrhoeae, the T4SS secretes single-stranded chromosomal DNA into the extracellular milieu in a contact-independent manner. Importantly, the DNA secreted through the T4SS is effective in natural transformation and therefore contributes to the spread of genetic information through Neisseria populations. Mutagenesis experiments have identified genes for DNA secretion including those encoding putative structural components of the apparatus, peptidoglycanases which may act in assembly, and relaxosome components for processing the DNA and delivering it to the apparatus. The T4SS may also play a role in infection by N. gonorrhoeae. During intracellular infection, N. gonorrhoeae requires the Ton complex for iron acquisition and survival. However, N. gonorrhoeae strains that do not express the Ton complex can survive intracellularly if they express structural components of the T4SS. These data provide evidence that the T4SS is expressed during intracellular infection and suggest that the T4SS may provide an advantage for intracellular survival. Here we review our current understanding of how the GGI and type IV secretion affect natural transformation and pathogenesis in N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis.

  • Cooper A (2011) A Case of Aneurism of the Carotid Artery. Med Chir Trans 1:1-12.1 (PMC2128800) View Abstract · Pubmed Record
  • Domínguez NM, Hackett KT, Dillard JP (2011) XerCD-mediated site-specific recombination leads to loss of the 57-kilobase gonococcal genetic island. J. Bacteriol. 193(2):377-88 (PMC3019826) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Most strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae carry the 57-kb gonococcal genetic island (GGI), as do a few strains of Neisseria meningitidis. The GGI is inserted into the chromosome at the dif site (difA) and is flanked by a partial repeat of the dif site (difB). Since dif is a sequence recognized by the site-specific recombinases XerC and XerD and the GGI shows evidence of horizontal acquisition, we hypothesized that the GGI may be acquired or lost by XerCD-mediated site-specific recombination. We show that while the GGI flanked by wild-type dif sites, difA and difB, is not readily lost from the gonococcal chromosome, the substitution of difB with another copy of difA allows the frequent excision and loss of the GGI. In mutants carrying two difA sites (difA(+) difA(+)), the GGI can be detected as an extrachromosomal circle that exists transiently. A mutation of xerD diminished GGI excision from the chromosome of a difA(+) difA(+) strain, while mutations in recA or type IV secretion genes had no effect on the loss of the GGI. These data indicate that the GGI is maintained by the replication of the chromosome and that GGI excision and loss are dependent upon the dif sequence and xerD. The detection of a circular form of the GGI in a wild-type strain suggests that GGI excision may occur naturally and could function to facilitate GGI transfer. These data suggest a model of GGI excision and loss explaining the absence of the GGI from some gonococcal strains and the maintenance of variant GGIs in some gonococcal and meningococcal isolates.

  • Zola TA, Strange HR, Dominguez NM, Dillard JP, Cornelissen CN (2010) Type IV secretion machinery promotes ton-independent intracellular survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae within cervical epithelial cells. Infect. Immun. 78(6):2429-37 (PMC2876539) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae within host epithelial cells is expected to be important in the pathogenesis of gonococcal disease. We previously demonstrated that strain FA1090 derives iron from a host cell in a process that requires the Ton complex and a putative TonB-dependent transporter, TdfF. FA1090, however, lacks the gonococcal genetic island (GGI) that is present in the majority of strains. The GGI in strain MS11 has been partially characterized, and it encodes a type IV secretion system (T4SS) involved in DNA release. In this study we investigated the role of iron acquisition and GGI-encoded gene products in gonococcal survival within cervical epithelial cells. We demonstrated that intracellular survival of MS11 was dependent on acquisition of iron from the host cell, but unlike the findings for FA1090, expression of the Ton complex was not required. Survival was not dependent on a putative TonB-like protein encoded in the GGI but instead was directly linked to T4SS structural components in a manner independent of the ability to release or internalize DNA. These data suggest that expression of selected GGI-encoded open reading frames confers an advantage during cervical cell infection. This study provides the first link between expression of the T4SS apparatus and intracellular survival of gonococci.

  • Salgado-Pabón W, Du Y, Hackett KT, Lyons KM, Arvidson CG, Dillard JP (2010) Increased expression of the type IV secretion system in piliated Neisseria gonorrhoeae variants. J. Bacteriol. 192(7):1912-20 (PMC2838043) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae produces a type IV secretion system that secretes chromosomal DNA. The secreted DNA is active in the transformation of other gonococci in the population and may act to transfer antibiotic resistance genes and variant alleles for surface antigens, as well as other genes. We observed that gonococcal variants that produced type IV pili secreted more DNA than variants that were nonpiliated, suggesting that the process may be regulated. Using microarray analysis, we found that a piliated strain showed increased expression of the gene for the putative type IV secretion coupling protein TraD, whereas a nonpiliated variant showed increased expression of genes for transcriptional and translational machinery, consistent with its higher growth rate compared to that of the piliated strain. These results suggested that type IV secretion might be controlled by either traD expression or growth rate. A mutant with a deletion in traD was found to be deficient in DNA secretion. Further mutation and complementation analysis indicated that traD is transcriptionally and translationally coupled to traI, which encodes the type IV secretion relaxase. We were able to increase DNA secretion in a nonpiliated strain by inserting a gene cassette with a strong promoter to drive the expression of the putative operon containing traI and traD. Together, these data suggest a model in which the type IV secretion system apparatus is made constitutively, while its activity is controlled through regulation of traD and traI.

  • Killoran MP, Kohler PL, Dillard JP, Keck JL (2009) RecQ DNA helicase HRDC domains are critical determinants in Neisseria gonorrhoeae pilin antigenic variation and DNA repair. Mol. Microbiol. 71(1):158-71 (PMC2674268) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gc), an obligate human bacterial pathogen, utilizes pilin antigenic variation to evade host immune defences. Antigenic variation is driven by recombination between expressed (pilE) and silent (pilS) copies of the pilin gene, which encodes the major structural component of the type IV pilus. We have investigated the role of the GcRecQ DNA helicase (GcRecQ) in this process. Whereas the vast majority of bacterial RecQ proteins encode a single 'Helicase and RNase D C-terminal' (HRDC) domain, GcRecQ encodes three tandem HRDC domains at its C-terminus. Gc mutants encoding versions of GcRecQ with either two or all three C-terminal HRDC domains removed are deficient in pilin variation and sensitized to UV light-induced DNA damage. Biochemical analysis of a GcRecQ protein variant lacking two HRDC domains, GcRecQDeltaHRDC2,3, shows it has decreased affinity for single-stranded and partial-duplex DNA and reduced unwinding activity on a synthetic Holliday junction substrate relative to full-length GcRecQ in the presence of Gc single-stranded DNA-binding protein (GcSSB). Our results demonstrate that the multiple HRDC domain architecture in GcRecQ is critical for structure-specific DNA binding and unwinding, and suggest that these features are central to GcRecQ's roles in Gc antigenic variation and DNA repair.

  • Cloud-Hansen KA, Hackett KT, Garcia DL, Dillard JP (2008) Neisseria gonorrhoeae uses two lytic transglycosylases to produce cytotoxic peptidoglycan monomers. J. Bacteriol. 190(17):5989-94 (PMC2519546) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Peptidoglycan fragments released by Neisseria gonorrhoeae contribute to the inflammation and ciliated cell death associated with gonorrhea and pelvic inflammatory disease. However, little is known about the production and release of these fragments during bacterial growth. Previous studies demonstrated that one lytic transglycosylase, LtgA, was responsible for the production of approximately half of the released peptidoglycan monomers. Systematic mutational analysis of other putative lytic transglycosylase genes identified lytic transglycosylase D (LtgD) as responsible for release of peptidoglycan monomers from gonococci. An ltgA ltgD double mutant was found not to release peptidoglycan monomers and instead released large, soluble peptidoglycan fragments. In pulse-chase experiments, recycled peptidoglycan was not found in cytoplasmic extracts from the ltgA ltgD mutant as it was for the wild-type strain, indicating that generation of anhydro peptidoglycan monomers by lytic transglycosylases facilitates peptidoglycan recycling. The ltgA ltgD double mutant showed no growth abnormalities or cell separation defects, suggesting that these enzymes are involved in pathogenesis but not necessary for normal growth.

  • Garcia DL, Dillard JP (2008) Mutations in ampG or ampD affect peptidoglycan fragment release from Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J. Bacteriol. 190(11):3799-807 (PMC2395056) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae releases peptidoglycan fragments during growth. The majority of the fragments released are peptidoglycan monomers, molecules known to increase pathogenesis through the induction of proinflammatory cytokines and responsible for the killing of ciliated epithelial cells. In other gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli, these peptidoglycan fragments are efficiently degraded and recycled. Peptidoglycan fragments enter the cytoplasm from the periplasm via the AmpG permease. The amidase AmpD degrades peptidoglycan monomers by removing the disaccharide from the peptide. The disaccharide and the peptide are further degraded and are then used for new peptidoglycan synthesis or general metabolism. We examined the possibility that peptidoglycan fragment release by N. gonorrhoeae results from defects in peptidoglycan recycling. The deletion of ampG caused a large increase in peptidoglycan monomer release. Analysis of cytoplasmic material showed peptidoglycan fragments as recycling intermediates in the wild-type strain but absent from the ampG mutant. An ampD deletion reduced the release of all peptidoglycan fragments and nearly eliminated the release of free disaccharide. The ampD mutant also showed a large buildup of peptidoglycan monomers in the cytoplasm. The introduction of an ampG mutation in the ampD background restored peptidoglycan fragment release, indicating that events in the cytoplasm (metabolic or transcriptional regulation) affect peptidoglycan fragment release. The ampD mutant showed increased metabolism of exogenously added free disaccharide derived from peptidoglycan. These results demonstrate that N. gonorrhoeae has an active peptidoglycan recycling pathway and can regulate peptidoglycan fragment metabolism, dependent on the intracellular concentration of peptidoglycan fragments.

  • Salgado-Pabón W, Jain S, Turner N, van der Does C, Dillard JP (2007) A novel relaxase homologue is involved in chromosomal DNA processing for type IV secretion in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Mol. Microbiol. 66(4):930-47 (PMC2586181) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The Neisseria gonorrhoeae type IV secretion system secretes chromosomal DNA that acts in natural transformation. To examine the mechanism of DNA processing for secretion, we made mutations in the putative relaxase gene traI and used nucleases to characterize the secreted DNA. The nuclease experiments demonstrated that the secreted DNA is single-stranded and blocked at the 5' end. Mutation of traI identified Tyr93 as required for DNA secretion, while substitution of Tyr201 resulted in intermediate levels of DNA secretion. TraI exhibits features of relaxases, but also has features that are absent in previously characterized relaxases, including an HD phosphohydrolase domain and an N-terminal hydrophobic region. The HD domain residue Asp120 was required for wild-type levels of DNA secretion. Subcellular localization studies demonstrated that the TraI N-terminal region promotes membrane interaction. We propose that Tyr93 initiates DNA processing and Tyr201 is required for termination or acts in DNA binding. Disruption of an inverted-repeat sequence eliminated DNA secretion, suggesting that this sequence may serve as the origin of transfer for chromosomal DNA secretion. The TraI domain architecture, although not previously described, is present in 53 uncharacterized proteins, suggesting that the mechanism of TraI function is a widespread process for DNA donation.

  • Kohler PL, Hamilton HL, Cloud-Hansen K, Dillard JP (2007) AtlA functions as a peptidoglycan lytic transglycosylase in the Neisseria gonorrhoeae type IV secretion system. J. Bacteriol. 189(15):5421-8 (PMC1951824) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Type IV secretion systems require peptidoglycan lytic transglycosylases for efficient secretion, but the function of these enzymes is not clear. The type IV secretion system gene cluster of Neisseria gonorrhoeae encodes two peptidoglycan transglycosylase homologues. One, LtgX, is similar to peptidoglycan transglycosylases from other type IV secretion systems. The other, AtlA, is similar to endolysins from bacteriophages and is not similar to any described type IV secretion component. We characterized the enzymatic function of AtlA in order to examine its role in the type IV secretion system. Purified AtlA was found to degrade macromolecular peptidoglycan and to produce 1,6-anhydro peptidoglycan monomers, characteristic of lytic transglycosylase activity. We found that AtlA can functionally replace the lambda endolysin to lyse Escherichia coli. In contrast, a sensitive measure of lysis demonstrated that AtlA does not lyse gonococci expressing it or gonococci cocultured with an AtlA-expressing strain. The gonococcal type IV secretion system secretes DNA during growth. A deletion of ltgX or a substitution in the putative active site of AtlA severely decreased DNA secretion. These results indicate that AtlA and LtgX are actively involved in type IV secretion and that AtlA is not involved in lysis of gonococci to release DNA. This is the first demonstration that a type IV secretion peptidoglycanase has lytic transglycosylase activity. These data show that AtlA plays a role in type IV secretion of DNA that requires peptidoglycan breakdown without cell lysis.

  • Garcia DL, Dillard JP (2006) AmiC functions as an N-acetylmuramyl-l-alanine amidase necessary for cell separation and can promote autolysis in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J. Bacteriol. 188(20):7211-21 (PMC1636224) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae is prone to undergo autolysis under many conditions not conducive to growth. The role of autolysis during gonococcal infection is not known, but possible advantages for the bacterial population include provision of nutrients to a starving population, modulation of the host immune response by released cell components, and donation of DNA for natural transformation. Biochemical studies indicated that an N-acetylmuramyl-l-alanine amidase is responsible for cell wall breakdown during autolysis. In order to better understand autolysis and in hopes of creating a nonautolytic mutant, we mutated amiC, the gene for a putative peptidoglycan-degrading amidase in N. gonorrhoeae. Characterization of peptidoglycan fragments released during growth showed that an amiC mutant did not produce free disaccharide, consistent with a role for AmiC as an N-acetylmuramyl-l-alanine amidase. Compared to the wild-type parent, the mutant exhibited altered growth characteristics, including slowed exponential-phase growth, increased turbidity in stationary phase, and increased colony opacity. Thin-section electron micrographs showed that mutant cells did not fully separate but grew as clumps. Complementation of the amiC deletion mutant with wild-type amiC restored wild-type growth characteristics and transparent colony morphology. Overexpression of amiC resulted in increased cell lysis, supporting AmiC's purported function as a gonococcal autolysin. However, amiC mutants still underwent autolysis in stationary phase, indicating that other gonococcal enzymes are also involved in this process.

  • Dillard JP (2006) Genetic manipulation of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Curr Protoc Microbiol Chapter 4:Unit 4A.2 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The sexually-transmitted pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, undergoes natural transformation at high frequency. This property has led to the rapid dissemination of antibiotic resistance markers and to the panmictic structure of the gonococcal population. However, high frequency transformation also makes N. gonorrhoeae one of the easiest bacterial species to manipulate genetically in the laboratory. Techniques have been developed that result in transformation frequencies >50%, allowing the identification of mutants by screening and without selection. Constructs have been created to take advantage of this high frequency transformation, facilitating genetic mutation, complementation, and heterologous gene expression. Techniques are described for genetic manipulation of N. gonorrhoeae, as well as for growth of this fastidious organism.

  • Hamilton HL, Dillard JP (2006) Natural transformation of Neisseria gonorrhoeae: from DNA donation to homologous recombination. Mol. Microbiol. 59(2):376-85 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Gonococci undergo frequent and efficient natural transformation. Transformation occurs so often that the population structure is panmictic, with only one long-lived clone having been identified. This high degree of genetic exchange is likely necessary to generate antigenic diversity and allow the persistence of gonococcal infection within the human population. In addition to spreading different alleles of genes for surface markers and allowing avoidance of the immune response, transformation facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance markers, a continuing problem for treatment of gonococcal infections. Transforming DNA is donated by neighbouring gonococci by two different mechanisms: autolysis or type IV secretion. All types of DNA are bound non-specifically to the cell surface. However, for DNA uptake, Neisseria gonorrhoeae recognizes only DNA containing a 10-base sequence (GCCGTCTGAA) present frequently in the chromosome of neisserial species. Type IV pilus components and several pilus-associated proteins are necessary for gonococcal DNA uptake. Incoming DNA is subject to restriction, making establishment of replicating plasmids difficult but not greatly affecting chromosomal transformation. Processing and integration of transforming DNA into the chromosome involves enzymes required for homologous recombination. Recent research on DNA donation mechanisms and extensive work on type IV pilus biogenesis and recombination proteins have greatly improved our understanding of natural transformation in N. gonorrhoeae. The completion of the gonococcal genome sequence has facilitated the identification of additional transformation genes and provides insight into previous investigations of gonococcal transformation. Here we review these recent developments and address the implications of natural transformation in the evolution and pathogenesis N. gonorrhoeae.

  • Kohler PL, Cloud KA, Hackett KT, Beck ET, Dillard JP (2005) Characterization of the role of LtgB, a putative lytic transglycosylase in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Microbiology (Reading, Engl.) 151(Pt 9):3081-8 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae releases monomeric peptidoglycan (PG) fragments during growth. These PG fragments affect pathogenesis-related phenotypes including induction of inflammatory cytokines and killing of ciliated fallopian tube cells. Although the biological activities of these molecules have been established in multiple systems, the genes and gene products responsible for their production in N. gonorrhoeae have not been determined. The authors previously identified genes for three lytic transglycosylase homologues (ltgA, ltgB and ltgC) in the N. gonorrhoeae genome sequence. Mutation of ltgA was found to affect PG fragment release, and mutation of ltgC affected cell separation. In this study the effects of complete deletion or point mutations in ltgB were characterized. Point mutations were introduced by a combination of insertion-duplication mutagenesis and positive and negative selection, thereby generating selectable marker-less mutations. The ltgB deletion mutant had normal growth characteristics and was not affected in PG fragment release. When expressed in Escherichia coli, gonococcal LtgB was able to substitute for lambda endolysin to cause cell lysis. Mutation of the predicted catalytic-site glutamic acid residue did not decrease lysis in this system. However, mutation of a nearby glutamic acid residue eliminated lysis activity.

  • Brettin T, Altherr MR, Du Y, Mason RM, Friedrich A, Potter L, Langford C, Keller TJ, Jens J, Howie H, Weyand NJ, Clary S, Prichard K, Wachocki S, Sodergren E, Dillard JP, Weinstock G, So M, Arvidson CG (2005) Expression capable library for studies of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, version 1.0. BMC Microbiol. 5:50 (PMC1236931) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea, is a serious health problem in developed as well as in developing countries, for which treatment continues to be a challenge. The recent completion of the genome sequence of the causative agent, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, opens up an entirely new set of approaches for studying this organism and the diseases it causes. Here, we describe the initial phases of the construction of an expression-capable clone set representing the protein-coding ORFs of the gonococcal genome using a recombination-based cloning system. The clone set thus far includes 1672 of the 2250 predicted ORFs of the N. gonorrhoeae genome, of which 1393 (83%) are sequence-validated. Included in this set are 48 of the 61 ORFs of the gonococcal genetic island of strain MS11, not present in the sequenced genome of strain FA1090. L-arabinose-inducible glutathione-S-transferase (GST)-fusions were constructed from random clones and each was shown to express a fusion protein of the predicted size following induction, demonstrating the use of the recombination cloning system. PCR amplicons of each ORF used in the cloning reactions were spotted onto glass slides to produce DNA microarrays representing 2035 genes of the gonococcal genome. Pilot experiments indicate that these arrays are suitable for the analysis of global gene expression in gonococci. This archived set of Gateway entry clones will facilitate high-throughput genomic and proteomic studies of gonococcal genes using a variety of expression and analysis systems. In addition, the DNA arrays produced will allow us to generate gene expression profiles of gonococci grown in a wide variety of conditions. Together, the resources produced in this work will facilitate experiments to dissect the molecular mechanisms of gonococcal pathogenesis on a global scale, and ultimately lead to the determination of the functions of unknown genes in the genome.

  • Dillard JP, Hackett KT (2005) Mutations affecting peptidoglycan acetylation in Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis. Infect. Immun. 73(9):5697-705 (PMC1231103) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae acetylates its cell wall peptidoglycan (PG) at the C-6 position on N-acetylmuramic acid. To understand the effects of PG acetylation on PG metabolism and release of PG fragments, we have made mutations in the genes responsible for PG acetylation. An insertion mutation in a putative PG acetylase gene (designated pacA) resulted in loss of PG acetylation as detected by a high-performance liquid chromatography-based assay. Sequence analysis of a naturally occurring non-acetylating strain revealed the presence of a 26-bp deletion in pacA. Introduction of the deletion mutation into wild-type gonococci resulted in lack of acetylation, and the phenotype was complemented by the addition of a wild-type copy of pacA at a distant location on the chromosome. Mutations were also introduced into three genes downstream of pacA. The gene directly downstream of pacA was required for acetylation and was designated pacB, whereas the next two genes were not required. Sequences highly similar to pacA and pacB were also found in N. meningitidis and N. lactamica strains, and an insertion in the meningococcal pacA eliminated PG acetylation. Phenotypic analyses of an N. gonorrhoeae pacA mutant did not show any decrease in lysozyme resistance or serum resistance, and the release of PG fragments during growth was unchanged. However, purified PG from the wild-type strain was significantly more resistant to the action of human lysozyme than was PG purified from the pacA mutant. Interestingly, the pacA mutant was more sensitive to EDTA, a compound known to trigger autolysis.

  • Hamilton HL, Domínguez NM, Schwartz KJ, Hackett KT, Dillard JP (2005) Neisseria gonorrhoeae secretes chromosomal DNA via a novel type IV secretion system. Mol. Microbiol. 55(6):1704-21 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The process of DNA donation for natural transformation of bacteria is poorly understood and has been assumed to involve bacterial cell death. Recently in Neisseria gonorrhoeae we found that mutations in three genes in the gonococcal genetic island (GGI) reduced the ability of a strain to act as a donor in transformation and to release DNA into the culture. To better characterize the GGI and the process of DNA donation, the 57 kb genetic island was cloned, sequenced and subjected to insertional mutagenesis. DNA sequencing revealed that the GGI has characteristics of a horizontally acquired genomic island and encodes homologues of type IV secretion system proteins. The GGI was found to be incorporated near the chromosomal replication terminus at the dif site, a sequence targeted by the site-specific recombinase XerCD. Using a plasmid carrying a small region of the GGI and the associated dif site, we demonstrated that this model island could be integrated at the dif site in strains not carrying the GGI and was spontaneously excised from that site. Also, we were able to delete the entire 57 kb region by transformation with DNA from a strain lacking the GGI. Thus the GGI was likely acquired and integrated into the gonococcal chromosome by site-specific recombination and may be lost by site-specific recombination or natural transformation. We made mutations in six putative type IV secretion system genes and assayed these strains for the ability to secrete DNA. Five of the mutations greatly reduced or completely eliminated DNA secretion. Our data indicate that N. gonorrhoeae secretes DNA via a specific process. Donated DNA may be used in natural transformation, contributing to antigenic variation and the spread of antibiotic resistance, and it may modulate the host immune response.

  • Cloud KA, Dillard JP (2004) Mutation of a single lytic transglycosylase causes aberrant septation and inhibits cell separation of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. J. Bacteriol. 186(22):7811-4 (PMC524912) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The function of lytic peptidoglycan transglycosylases is poorly understood. Single lytic transglycosylase mutants of Escherichia coli have no growth phenotype. By contrast, mutation of Neisseria gonorrhoeae ltgC inhibited cell separation without affecting peptidoglycan monomer production. Thus, LtgC has a dedicated function in gonococcal cell division.

  • Cloud KA, Dillard JP (2002) A lytic transglycosylase of Neisseria gonorrhoeae is involved in peptidoglycan-derived cytotoxin production. Infect. Immun. 70(6):2752-7 (PMC127960) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae releases soluble fragments of peptidoglycan during growth. These molecules are implicated in the pathogenesis of various forms of gonococcal infection. A major peptidoglycan fragment released by gonococci is identical to the tracheal cytotoxin of Bordetella pertussis and has been shown to kill ciliated fallopian tube cells in organ culture. Previous studies indicated that a unique lytic peptidoglycan transglycosylase (AtlA) was responsible for some, but not all, of the peptidoglycan-derived cytotoxin (PGCT) production in certain gonococcal strains. To examine the role of other putative lytic transglycosylases in PGCT production, we made a deletion mutation in a gonococcal gene exhibiting similarity with genes encoding lytic transglycosylases from other bacterial species. The gonococcal mutant was viable and grew normally, but it was less autolytic than the wild-type strain in stationary-phase culture and under nongrowth conditions. The gonococcal mutant was reduced in peptidoglycan turnover, and the profile of the released products showed a reduction in monomeric peptidoglycan. Proportionally more multimeric fragments were released. These results suggest that this gonococcal gene (ltgA) encodes a lytic peptidoglycan transglycosylase and that it is responsible for a significant proportion of the PGCT released by N. gonorrhoeae.

  • Hamilton HL, Schwartz KJ, Dillard JP (2001) Insertion-duplication mutagenesis of neisseria: use in characterization of DNA transfer genes in the gonococcal genetic island. J. Bacteriol. 183(16):4718-26 (PMC99525) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    We created plasmids for use in insertion-duplication mutagenesis (IDM) of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This mutagenesis method has the advantage that it requires only a single cloning step prior to transformation into gonococci. Chromosomal DNA cloned into the plasmid directs insertion into the chromosome at the site of homology by a single-crossover (Campbell-type) recombination event. Two of the vectors contain an erythromycin resistance gene, ermC, with a strong promoter and in an orientation such that transcription will proceed into the cloned insert. Thus, these plasmids can be used to create insertions that are effectively nonpolar on the transcription of downstream genes. In addition to the improved ermC, the vector contains two copies of the neisserial DNA uptake sequence to facilitate high-frequency DNA uptake during transformation. Using various chromosomal DNA insert sizes, we have determined that even small inserts can target insertion mutation by this method and that the insertions are stably maintained in the gonococcal chromosome. We have used IDM to create knockouts in two genes in the gonococcal genetic island (GGI) and to clone additional regions of the GGI by a chromosome-walking procedure. Phenotypic characterization of traG and traH mutants suggests a role for the encoded proteins in DNA secretion by a novel type IV secretion system.

  • Dillard JP, Seifert HS (2001) A variable genetic island specific for Neisseria gonorrhoeae is involved in providing DNA for natural transformation and is found more often in disseminated infection isolates. Mol. Microbiol. 41(1):263-77 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the gonococcus) is the causative agent of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea. Most gonococcal infections remain localized to the genital tract but, in a small proportion of untreated cases, the bacterium becomes systemic to produce the serious complication of disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). We have identified a large region of chromosomal DNA in N. gonorrhoeae that is not found in a subset of gonococcal isolates (a genetic island), in the closely related pathogen, Neisseria meningitidis or in commensal Neisseria that do not usually cause disease. Certain versions of the island carry a serum resistance locus and a gene for the production of a cytotoxin; these versions of the island are found preferentially in DGI isolates. All versions of the genetic island encode homologues of F factor conjugation proteins, suggesting that, like some other pathogenicity islands, this region encodes a conjugation-like secretion system. Consistent with this hypothesis, a wild-type strain released large amounts of DNA into the medium during exponential growth without cell lysis, whereas an isogenic strain mutated in a peptidoglycan hydrolase gene (atlA) was drastically reduced in its ability to donate DNA for transformation during growth. This genetic island constitutes the first major discriminating factor between the gonococcus and the other Neisseria and carries genes for providing DNA for genetic transformation.

  • Briles DE, Tart RC, Swiatlo E, Dillard JP, Smith P, Benton KA, Ralph BA, Brooks-Walter A, Crain MJ, Hollingshead SK, McDaniel LS (1998) Pneumococcal diversity: considerations for new vaccine strategies with emphasis on pneumococcal surface protein A (PspA). Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 11(4):645-57 (PMC88902) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Streptococcus pneumoniae is a problematic infectious agent, whose seriousness to human health has been underscored by the recent rise in the frequency of isolation of multidrug-resistant strains. Pneumococcal pneumonia in the elderly is common and often fatal. Young children in the developing world are at significant risk for fatal pneumococcal respiratory disease, while in the developed world otitis media in children results in substantial economic costs. Immunocompromised patients are extremely susceptible to pneumococcal infection. With 90 different capsular types thus far described, the diversity of pneumococci contributes to the challenges of preventing and treating S. pneumoniae infections. The current capsular polysaccharide vaccine is not recommended for use in children younger than 2 years and is not fully effective in the elderly. Therefore, innovative vaccine strategies to protect against this agent are needed. Given the immunogenic nature of S. pneumoniae proteins, these molecules are being investigated as potential vaccine candidates. Pneumococcal surface protein A (PspA) has been evaluated for its ability to elicit protection against S. pneumoniae infection in mouse models of systemic and local disease. This review focuses on immune system responsiveness to PspA and the ability of PspA to elicit cross-protection against heterologous strains. These parameters will be critical to the design of broadly protective pneumococcal vaccines.

  • Laskos L, Dillard JP, Seifert HS, Fyfe JA, Davies JK (1998) The pathogenic neisseriae contain an inactive rpoN gene and do not utilize the pilE sigma54 promoter. Gene 208(1):95-102 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The sigma54 promoter (P3) upstream of the pilE gene in Neisseria gonorrhoeae was shown to be non-functional by transcriptional analysis of a PpilE::lacZ fusion containing only P3. A region on the chromosome of N. gonorrhoeae strain MS11-A was identified that potentially encodes a protein with a significant similarity to the Escherichia coli RpoN protein. However, this region (designated RLS for rpoN-like sequence) does not contain a single open reading frame (ORF) capable of encoding a functional RpoN protein. It appears that RLS may have arisen from an ancestral rpoN homologue that underwent a deletion removing the sequence encoding the essential helix-turn-helix (HTH) motif, and changing the subsequent reading frame. An RLS has been identified in several strains of N. gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis. A 90-kDa gonococcal protein has previously been shown to react with a monoclonal antibody raised against the RpoN from Salmonella typhimurium. However, mutagenesis and Western blot analysis confirmed that the gene encoding this protein is not contained within RLS.

  • Dillard JP, Seifert HS (1997) A peptidoglycan hydrolase similar to bacteriophage endolysins acts as an autolysin in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Mol. Microbiol. 25(5):893-901 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    We have identified a gene encoding an autolysin (atlA) from Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The deduced amino acid sequence of AtlA shows significant similarity to the peptidoglycan degrading transglycosylases (endolysins) of bacteriophages lambda and P2, suggesting that the encoded protein also functions in peptidoglycan hydrolysis. An atlA mutant was identical to the wild-type strain in exponential growth rate, but demonstrated reduced lysis and peptidoglycan turnover in the stationary phase of growth. When transferred into a buffer solution, at a pH non-permissive for other gonococcal autolysins, an autolytic activity was detectable in the wild-type strain that was not present in the mutant. The most dramatic phenotype of the mutant occurred after extended time in stationary phase. After approximately 16h in stationary phase, both strains underwent an apparent replication event, after which the wild-type strain died rapidly whereas the atlA mutant survived considerably longer. Even after both the wild-type and mutant cells were dead, many of the mutant cells maintained intact morphology, whereas the wild-type cells were lysed. These results suggest that AtlA is a peptidoglycan transglycosylase related to bacteriophage endolysins and acts as an autolysin in the stationary phase.

  • Dillard JP, Caimano M, Kelly T, Yother J (1996) Capsules and cassettes: genetic organization of the capsule locus of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Dev. Biol. Stand. 85:261-5 View Abstract · Pubmed Record
  • Dillard JP, Vandersea MW, Yother J (1995) Characterization of the cassette containing genes for type 3 capsular polysaccharide biosynthesis in Streptococcus pneumoniae. J. Exp. Med. 181(3):973-83 (PMC2191931) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    The capsular polysaccharide is the major virulence factor of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Previously, we identified and cloned a region from the S. pneumoniae chromosome specific for the production of type 3 capsular polysaccharide. Now, by sequencing the region and characterizing mutations genetically and in an in vitro capsule synthesis assay, we have assigned putative functions to the products of the type-specific genes. Using DNA from the right end of the region in mapping studies, we have obtained further evidence indicating that the capsule genes of each serotype are contained in a gene cassette located adjacent to this region. We have cloned the region flanking the left end of the cassette from the type 3 chromosome and have found that it is repeated in the S. pneumoniae chromosome. The DNA sequence and hybridization data suggest a model for recombination of the capsule gene cassettes that not only describes the replacement of capsule genes, but also suggests an explanation for binary capsule type formation, and the creation of novel capsule types.

  • Dillard JP, Yother J (1994) Genetic and molecular characterization of capsular polysaccharide biosynthesis in Streptococcus pneumoniae type 3. Mol. Microbiol. 12(6):959-72 View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    To achieve a better understanding of the genetics of capsular polysaccharide synthesis in Streptococcus pneumoniae, we have identified and characterized mutants deficient in type 3 capsule production. We identified a clone that restored encapsulation in one of our mutants and in a mutant deficient in UDP-glucose dehydrogenase. By hybridization, we developed a chromosomal map of the type 3-specific region and identified a flanking region containing DNA common to all capsule types examined. Insertion mutations were used to identify chromosomal loci required for capsule synthesis, and to map transcription within the region. Using non-destructive insertions linked to type-specific genes of type 2, 3, or 5, we were able to select for the transformation of all necessary genes specific for capsule type. Our data provide molecular evidence to show that all the type-specific genes are linked in a cassette and can be transferred as a unit during transformation.

  • Kelly T, Dillard JP, Yother J (1994) Effect of genetic switching of capsular type on virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Infect. Immun. 62(5):1813-9 (PMC186414) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    To assess the role of capsular serotypes in the virulence of Streptococcus pneumoniae, we have constructed isogenic derivatives differing only in the type of capsule expressed. Strains of types 2, 5, and 6B were converted to type 3 by transformation and selection for an erythromycin resistance marker linked to the type 3 capsule locus. Characterization studies revealed that these type 3 derivatives were indistinguishable from the type 2, type 5, and type 6B parental strains in terms of restriction enzyme fragment pattern and expression of pneumococcal surface protein A (PspA). Expression of the type 3 capsule did not alter the mouse virulence of the similarly virulent type 2 strain. However, alteration of capsule type had a profound effect on the virulence of the type 5 and type 6B derivatives. The highly virulent type 5 strain was essentially avirulent when expressing the type 3 capsule. Conversely, the 50% lethal dose of the relatively avirulent type 6B strain was reduced > 100-fold when the type 3 capsule was expressed. Thus, the serotype of capsule expressed has a major effect on virulence, and this effect is dependent upon the genetic background of the recipient strain.

  • Dillard JP, Yother J (1991) Analysis of Streptococcus pneumoniae sequences cloned into Escherichia coli: effect of promoter strength and transcription terminators. J. Bacteriol. 173(16):5105-9 (PMC208201) View Abstract · Pubmed Record

    Difficulties encountered in the cloning of DNA from Streptococcus pneumoniae and other AT-rich organisms into ColE1-type Escherichia coli vectors have been proposed to be due to the presence of a large number of strong promoter-acting sequences in the donor DNA. The use of transcription terminators has been advocated as a means of reducing instability resulting from disruption of plasmid replication caused by strong promoters. However, neither the existence of promoter-acting sequences of sufficient strength and number to explain the reported cloning difficulties nor their role as a source of instability has been proven. As a direct test of the "strong promoter" hypothesis, we cloned random fragments from S. pneumoniae into an E. coli vector containing transcription terminators, identified strong promoter-acting sequences, and subsequently removed the transcription terminators. We observed that terminator removal resulted in reduced copy numbers for the strongest promoter-acting sequences but not in reduced promoter strengths or altered plasmid stabilities. Our results indicate that promoters strong enough to require transcription terminators for plasmid stability are probably rare in S. pneumoniae DNA.