The HilA protein is the master regulator of the Salmonella pathogenicity island 1 (SPI1). EilA and YgeH proteins show a moderate similarity to HilA and are encoded in pathogenicity islands from several E. coli strains, both pathogenic and non-pathogenic. In the present work we characterize the YgeH protein from the enteroaggregative E. coli strain 042 (locus tag EC042_3050).
We show that both E. coli 042 YgeH and EilA proteins are able to functionally replace HilA in Salmonella. Interestingly, this is not the rule for all YgeH proteins: the YgeH protein from the enterohaemorragic E. coli strain O157 appears to be non-functional. ygeH expression is not influenced by growth osmolarity or temperature, and moderately increases in cells entering the stationary phase. H-NS represses ygeH expression under all growth conditions tested, and binds with specificity to the ygeH promoter region. As expected, expression of ETT2 (Escherichia coli type 3 secretion system 2) genes requires YgeH: ETT2 operons are downregulated in a ygeH mutant. Accordingly, since H-NS represses ygeH expression, ETT2 expression is significantly increased in an hns mutant.
E. coli 042 YgeH protein is functional and able to replace HilA in Salmonella. ETT2 gene expression requires YgeH activity which, in turn, is subjected to H-NS silencing.