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Abstract

The type III secretion system (T3SS) is known to be a very important virulence factor in acute human infections, but it is less important in maintaining chronic infections in which T3SS genes are downregulated. , the activation of T3SS expression involves a positive activating loop that acts on the transcriptional regulator ExsA. We have observed that T3SS expression is cell density-dependent in a manner that does not need known quorum-sensing (QS) signals. In addition, stationary-phase culture supernatants added to exponential-phase growing strains can inhibit T3SS expression. The analysis of transposon insertion mutants showed that the production of such T3SS-inhibiting signals might depend on tryptophan synthase and hence tryptophan, which is the precursor of signalling molecules such as indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), kynurenine and quinolone signal (PQS). Commercially available tryptophan-derived molecules were tested for their role in the regulation of T3SS expression. At millimolar concentrations, IAA, 1-naphthalacetic acid (NAA) and 3-hydroxykynurenine inhibited T3SS expression. Inactivation of the tryptophan dioxygenase-encoding gene resulted in a decrease in the T3SS-inhibiting activity of supernatants. These observations suggest that tryptophan catabolites are involved in the downregulation of T3SS expression in the transition from a low- to a high-cell-density state.

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