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Novel small RNAs expressed by Bartonella bacilliformis under multiple conditions reveal potential mechanisms for persistence in the sand fly vector and human host

by Shaun Wachter, Linda D. Hicks, Rahul Raghavan, Michael F. Minnick

Bartonella bacilliformis, the etiological agent of Carrión’s disease, is a Gram-negative, facultative intracellular alphaproteobacterium. Carrión’s disease is an emerging but neglected tropical illness endemic to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. B. bacilliformis is spread between humans through the bite of female phlebotomine sand flies. As a result, the pathogen encounters significant and repeated environmental shifts during its life cycle, including changes in pH and temperature. In most bacteria, small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs) serve as effectors that may post-transcriptionally regulate the stress response to such changes. However, sRNAs have not been characterized in B. bacilliformis, to date. We therefore performed total RNA-sequencing analyses on B. bacilliformis grown in vitro then shifted to one of ten distinct conditions that simulate various environments encountered by the pathogen during its life cycle. From this, we identified 160 sRNAs significantly expressed under at least one of the conditions tested. sRNAs included the highly-conserved tmRNA, 6S RNA, RNase P RNA component, SRP RNA component, ffH leader RNA, and the alphaproteobacterial sRNAs αr45 and speF leader RNA. In addition, 153 other potential sRNAs of unknown function were discovered. Northern blot analysis was used to confirm the expression of eight novel sRNAs. We also characterized a Bartonella bacilliformis group I intron (BbgpI) that disrupts an un-annotated tRNACCUArg gene and determined that the intron splices in vivo and self-splices in vitro. Furthermore, we demonstrated the molecular targeting of Bartonella bacilliformis small RNA 9 (BbsR9) to transcripts of the ftsH, nuoF, and gcvT genes, in vitro.

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