Clostridioides difficile is a Gram-positive, anaerobic, and spore-forming bacterial member of the human gut microbiome. The primary virulence factors of C. difficile are toxin A and toxin B. These toxins damage the cell cytoskeleton and cause various diseases, from diarrhea to severe pseudomembranous colitis. Evidence suggests that bacteriophages can regulate the expression of the pathogenicity locus (PaLoc) genes of C. difficile. We previously demonstrated that the genome of the C. difficile RT027 strain NCKUH-21 contains a prophage-like DNA sequence, which was found to be markedly similar to that of the φCD38-2 phage. In the present study, we investigated the mechanisms underlying the φNCKUH-21-mediated regulation of the pathogenicity and the PaLoc genes expression in the lysogenized C. difficile strain R20291. The carriage of φNCKUH-21 in R20291 cells substantially enhanced toxin production, bacterial motility, biofilm formation, and spore germination in vitro. Subsequent mouse studies revealed that the lysogenized R20291 strain caused a more severe infection than the wild-type strain. We screened three φNCKUH-21 genes encoding DNA-binding proteins to check their effects on PaLoc genes expression. The overexpression of NCKUH-21_03890, annotated as a transcriptional regulator (phage transcriptional regulator X, PtrX), considerably enhanced toxin production, biofilm formation, and bacterial motility of R20291. Transcriptome analysis further confirmed that the overexpression of ptrX led to the upregulation of the expression of toxin genes, flagellar genes, and csrA. In the ptrX-overexpressing R20291 strain, PtrX influenced the expression of flagellar genes and the sigma factor gene sigD, possibly through an increased flagellar phase ON configuration ratio.
- phase variation
- gene regulation