Nutrient depletion may trigger the Yersinia pestis OmpR-EnvZ regulatory system to promote flea-borne plague transmission

Sébastien Bontemps-Gallo, Marion Fernandez, Amélie Dewitte, Etienne Raphaël, Frank C. Gherardini, Pradel Elizabeth, Lionel Koch, Fabrice Biot, Angéline Reboul, Florent Sebbane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The flea’s lumen gut is a poorly documented environment where the agent of flea-borne plague, Yersinia pestis, must replicate to produce a transmissible infection. Here, we report that both the acidic pH and osmolarity of the lumen’s contents display simple harmonic oscillations with different periods. Since an acidic pH and osmolarity are two of three known stimuli of the OmpR-EnvZ two-component system in bacteria, we investigated the role and function of this Y. pestis system in fleas. By monitoring the in vivo expression pattern of three OmpR-EnvZ-regulated genes, we concluded that the flea gut environment triggers OmpR-EnvZ. This activation was not, however, correlated with changes in pH and osmolarity but matched the pattern of nutrient depletion (the third known stimulus for OmpR-EnvZ). Lastly, we found that the OmpR-EnvZ and the OmpF porin are needed to produce the biofilm that ultimately obstructs the flea’s gut and thus hastens the flea-borne transmission of plague. Taken as a whole, our data suggest that the flea gut is a complex, fluctuating environment in which Y. pestis senses nutrient depletion via OmpR-EnvZ. Once activated, the latter triggers a molecular program (including at least OmpF) that produces the biofilm required for efficient plague transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1471-1482
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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