Stationary-phase genes upregulated by polyamines are responsible for the formation ofEscherichia colipersister cells tolerant to netilmicin

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Persisters are rare phenotypic variants of regular bacterial cells that survive lethal antibiotics or stresses owing to slowing down of their metabolism. Recently, we have shown that polyamine putrescine can upregulate persister cell formation in Escherichia coli via the stimulation of rpoS expression, encoding a master regulator of general stress response. We hypothesized that rmf and yqjD, the stationary-phase genes responsible for ribosome inactivation, might be good candidates for the similar role owing to their involvement in translational arrest and the ability to be affected by polyamines. Using reporter gene fusions or single and multiple knockout mutations in rpoS, rmf and yqjD genes, we show in this work that (i) E. coli polyamines spermidine and cadaverine can upregulate persistence, like putrescine; (ii) polyamine effects on persister cell formation are mediated through stimulation of expression of rpoS, rmf and yqjD genes; (iii) these genes are involved in persister cell formation sequentially in a dynamic fashion as cells enter the stationary phase. The data obtained in this work can be used to develop novel tools relying on a suppression of polyamine metabolism in bacteria to combat persister cells as an important cause of infections refractory to antibiotics.

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