Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 34491998
Link to DOI – 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009761
PLoS Genet 2021 Sep; 17(9): e1009761
Virulence of the neonatal pathogen Group B Streptococcus is under the control of the master regulator CovR. Inactivation of CovR is associated with large-scale transcriptome remodeling and impairs almost every step of the interaction between the pathogen and the host. However, transcriptome analyses suggested a plasticity of the CovR signaling pathway in clinical isolates leading to phenotypic heterogeneity in the bacterial population. In this study, we characterized the CovR regulatory network in a strain representative of the CC-17 hypervirulent lineage responsible of the majority of neonatal meningitis. Transcriptome and genome-wide binding analysis reveal the architecture of the CovR network characterized by the direct repression of a large array of virulence-associated genes and the extent of co-regulation at specific loci. Comparative functional analysis of the signaling network links strain-specificities to the regulation of the pan-genome, including the two specific hypervirulent adhesins and horizontally acquired genes, to mutations in CovR-regulated promoters, and to variability in CovR activation by phosphorylation. This regulatory adaptation occurs at the level of genes, promoters, and of CovR itself, and allows to globally reshape the expression of virulence genes. Overall, our results reveal the direct, coordinated, and strain-specific regulation of virulence genes by the master regulator CovR and suggest that the intra-species evolution of the signaling network is as important as the expression of specific virulence factors in the emergence of clone associated with specific diseases.