Indole Inhibits ToxR Regulon Expression in Vibrio cholerae
Infection and Immunity
Indole is a degradation product of tryptophan that functions as a signaling molecule in many bacteria. This includes Vibrio cholerae, where indole was shown to regulate biofilm and type VI secretion in nontoxigenic environmental isolates. Indole is also produced by toxigenic V. cholerae strains in the human intestine, but its significance in the host is unknown. We investigated the effects of indole on toxigenic V. cholerae O1 El Tor during growth under virulence inducing conditions. The indole
... transcriptome was defined by RNA sequencing and showed widespread changes in the expression of genes involved in metabolism, biofilm production, and virulence factor production. In contrast, genes involved in type VI secretion were not affected by indole. We subsequently found that indole repressed genes involved in V. cholerae pathogenesis, including the ToxR virulence regulon. Consistent with this, indole inhibited cholera toxin and toxin-coregulated pilus production in a dose-dependent manner. The effects of indole on virulence factor production and biofilm were linked to ToxR and the ToxR-dependent regulator LeuO. The expression of leuO was increased by exogenous indole and linked to repression of the ToxR virulence regulon. This process was dependent on the ToxR periplasmic domain, suggesting that indole was a ToxR agonist. This conclusion was further supported by results showing that the ToxR periplasmic domain contributed to indole-mediated increased biofilm production. Collectively, our results suggest that indole may be a niche-specific cue that can function as a ToxR agonist to modulate virulence gene expression and biofilm production in V. cholerae.