A cell-cell signaling sensor is required for virulence and insect transmission of Xylella fastidiosa
Cell-cell signaling in Xylella fastidiosa, a xylem-colonizing plant pathogenic bacterium, mediated by a fatty acid Diffusible Signaling Factor (DSF), is required to colonize insect vectors and to suppress virulence to grape. Here, we show that a hybrid two-component regulatory protein RpfC is involved in negative regulation of DSF synthesis by RpfF in X. fastidiosa. X. fastidiosa rpfC mutants hyperexpress rpfF and overproduce DSF and are deficient in virulence and movement in the xylem vessels of grape. The expression of the genes encoding the adhesins FimA, HxfA, and HxfB is much higher in rpfC mutants, which also exhibit a hyper-attachment phenotype in culture that is associated with their inability to migrate in xylem vessels and cause disease. rpfF mutants deficient in DSF production have the opposite phenotypes for all of these traits. RpfC is also involved in the regulation of other signaling components including rpfG, rpfB, a GGDEF domain protein that may be involved in intracellular signaling by modulating the levels of cyclic-di-GMP, and the virulence factors to/C and pg/A required for disease. rpfC mutants are able to colonize the mouth-parts of insect vectors and wild-type strains but are not transmitted as efficiently to new host plants, apparently because of their high levels of adhesiveness. Because of the conflicting contributions of adhesiveness and other traits to movement within plants and vectoring to new host plants, X. fastidiosa apparently coordinates these traits in a population-size-dependent fashion involving accumulation of DSF.