Vibrio cholerae is the etiological agent of cholera, a disease affecting 4.3 million people each year (WHO, 2015). The symptoms of cholera include profuse watery diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to coma and death in serious cases. The El Tor biotype of V. cholerae is globally predominant, and the success of this biotype to cause disease is thought to be due, in part, to the ability of the organism to successfully colonise two different environments; i) marine and brackish coastal waters where V. cholerae forms biofilms on the chitinous surfaces of shellfish, and ii) the human intestine. When bound to chitinous surfaces V. cholerae expresses genes required for biofilm formation, chitin utilisation and natural competence. Conversely, within the human host, V. cholerae switches on the expression of virulence genes. The transcription factor AphA was discovered as a regulator of genes encoding the toxin co-regulated pilus (TCP) of V. cholerae. It is also known that AphA is active when V. cholerae populations have a low cell density. Hence, AphA is generally considered a regulator of virulence and quorum sensing. We have mapped DNA binding by AphA across the entire V. cholerae genome. The majority of AphA target genes encode cell surface and cell envelope proteins. Unexpectedly, we show that AphA also targets key gene clusters within the natural competence regulon of V. cholerae. Using biochemistry and genetics we show that AphA is a master repressor of natural competence and acts to antagonise transcription activation by the cyclic-AMP receptor protein.

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