Replication of the Salmonella Genomic Island 1 (SGI1) triggered by helper IncC conjugative plasmids promotes incompatibility and plasmid loss

by Kévin T. Huguet, Nicolas Rivard, Daniel Garneau, Jason Palanee, Vincent Burrus

The mobilizable resistance island Salmonella genomic island 1 (SGI1) is specifically mobilized by IncA and IncC conjugative plasmids. SGI1, its variants and IncC plasmids propagate multidrug resistance in pathogenic enterobacteria such as Salmonella enterica serovars and Proteus mirabilis. SGI1 modifies and uses the conjugation apparatus encoded by the helper IncC plasmid, thus enhancing its own propagation. Remarkably, although SGI1 needs a coresident IncC plasmid to excise from the chromosome and transfer to a new host, these elements have been reported to be incompatible. Here, the stability of SGI1 and its helper IncC plasmid, each expressing a different fluorescent reporter protein, was monitored using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). Without selective pressure, 95% of the cells segregated into two subpopulations containing either SGI1 or the helper plasmid. Furthermore, FACS analysis revealed a high level of SGI1-specific fluorescence in IncC+ cells, suggesting that SGI1 undergoes active replication in the presence of the helper plasmid. SGI1 replication was confirmed by quantitative PCR assays, and extraction and restriction of its plasmid form. Deletion of genes involved in SGI1 excision from the chromosome allowed a stable coexistence of SGI1 with its helper plasmid without selective pressure. In addition, deletion of S003 (rep) or of a downstream putative iteron-based origin of replication, while allowing SGI1 excision, abolished its replication, alleviated the incompatibility with the helper plasmid and enabled its cotransfer to a new host. Like SGI1 excision functions, rep expression was found to be controlled by AcaCD, the master activator of IncC plasmid transfer. Transient SGI1 replication seems to be a key feature of the life cycle of this family of genomic islands. Sequence database analysis revealed that SGI1 variants encode either a replication initiator protein with a RepA_C domain, or an alternative replication protein with N-terminal replicase and primase C terminal 1 domains.

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