Intergenic evolution during host adaptation increases expression of the metallophore pseudopaline in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Grith Miriam Maigaard Hermansen, Morten Lindqvist Hansen, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Khademi, Lars Jelsbak*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Regulating intracellular levels of biological metal ions is essential for all bacterial species, as they are needed for virulence and a range of metabolic processes. Zinc is the second most abundant metal ion in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, but little is known about its regulation. Recent studies have identified a novel operon, zrmABCD (also called cntOLMI), encoding a metallophore system (pseudopaline) involved in zinc acquisition. Expression of this operon has been implicated in human infections and is regulated by the transcriptional regulator Zur (Zn2+ uptake regulator). In this study, we show that the intergenic promoter region in front of zrmABCD is a target for recurrent adaptive mutations during chronic infection of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. We characterize the inter- and intraclonal sequence polymorphisms found in the promoter region of the metallophore system and find that most alterations increase promoter activity. One of the evolved promoters displays a more than 10-fold increase compared to the ancestral strain due to the combined effect of an altered binding site of Zur and changes to the RpoD-binding motif. This specific evolved promoter responds differently to changes in metal ion concentrations in chelated medium. We have previously shown that P. aeruginosa evolves toward iron acquisition from haemoglobin during long-term CF infections. We hereby provide the second example of adaptive mutations targeting intergenic regions that affect metal ion uptake systems during CF infections, and the first involving zinc uptake. Our results suggest that the scarcity of metal ions (including iron and zinc) is an important evolutionary driver in CF host adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology (United Kingdom)
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1038-1047
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Metallophore
  • Biological metal ions
  • Adaptation
  • Zinc
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Cystic fibrosis


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