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Theses Doctoral

Physiology of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Phenazine Production and Transport

Sakhtah, Hassan

Many bacteria secrete secondary metabolites, whose production is decoupled from active growth in laboratory cultures. Historically, the advantages of secondary metabolite production have mostly been explored in the context of cellular interactions, such as antibiotic effects on competing organisms, damage caused to host tissues during infection, or cell density-dependent signaling. However, recent studies in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa have brought into focus the physiological effects of secondary metabolites on their producer and their implications for multicellular behavior. P. aeruginosa produces antibiotics called phenazines, which can act as mediators to transfer reducing power to an extracellular oxidant and thereby support bacterial survival when oxygen is not accessible. In the crowded environments of biofilms, communities of bacteria surrounded by self-made matrices, this property of phenazines could support energy generation for cells in anoxic subzones.
As biofilm formation is a hallmark of P. aeruginosa colonization at various infection sites within the body, I was motivated to investigate the regulation of phenazine production at the level of synthesis and transport, the distribution of phenazines in P. aeruginosa biofilms, and the effects of individual phenazines on P. aeruginosa gene expression and colony biofilm morphogenesis. As part of this work, a novel electrochemical device was developed that enables direct detection of phenazines released from intact colony biofilms. Application of this device and other electrochemical techniques enabled detection of the reactive phenazine intermediate 5-Me-PCA, which was found to be the primary phenazine affecting P. aeruginosa colony morphogenesis. The production of this phenazine was found to be sufficient for activation of the redox-active transcription factor SoxR and full induction of the RND efflux pump MexGHI-OpmD. Finally, results described in this thesis show that 5-Me-PCA is transported by MexGHI-OpmD, constituting a unique demonstration of the self-protective role of an efflux pump in a gram-negative antibiotic-producing bacterium. These findings raise broad questions about the effects of individual phenazines on biofilm cell physiology and have implications for the contributions of individual phenazines to virulence and survival during infection. The technology developed also has potential applications in novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.
Chapters 1-3 introduce and highlight advances made in understanding secondary metabolite production, with a focus on P. aeruginosa. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to antibiotic production, the concept of self-resistance and other physiological effects of antibiotics in their producers, and infections caused by P. aeruginosa. Chapter 2 reviews recent studies that have brought into focus the physiological effects of secondary metabolites on their producers and their implications for multicellular behavior. Chapter 3 provides an overview of our current understanding of the regulation of phenazine production in pseudomonads and other bacterial species. Chapter 4 describes the development of an integrated circuit-based platform for detection of redox-active metabolites released from multicellular samples, and demonstrates its application to mapping phenazines released from P. aeruginosa biofilms. The study described in Chapter 5 investigates the role of the P. aeruginosa SoxR regulon, which is induced by phenazines, in phenazine transport and shows that the understudied reactive phenazine 5-methylphenazine-1-carboxylic acid (5-Me-PCA) is transported by the RND efflux pump MexGHI-OpmD and is required for wild-type biofilm formation. Chapter 6 describes the development of an assay for 5-Me-PCA production and studies exploring the role of the regulator PsrA in controlling phenazine biosynthesis. Chapter 7 provides an overview of the findings and open questions to be explored in future research. The P. aeruginosa genome contains two nearly identical operons that encode biosynthetic enzymes for the production of phenazine-1-carboxylic acid, the precursor to all of the other phenazines. The study described in Appendix A characterizes the respective contributions of these operons to phenazine production in shaken liquid cultures and biofilms. Appendix B presents evidence that electron acceptor availability influences, and is influenced by, the morphogenesis of P. aeruginosa colony biofilms. Finally, Appendix C describes a screen for commercially available compounds that inhibit production of the phenazine pyocyanin by P. aeruginosa. Together, these findings reveal the unique physiological roles of specific phenazine-related genetic loci and regulatory proteins and of 5-Me-PCA, a phenazine that was previously overlooked due to the technical challenges associated with its detection. They have also uncovered novel aspects of phenazine production in both shaken liquid cultures and biofilms relevant for the development of therapeutics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biological Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Dietrich, Lars
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 11, 2016
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