Functional analysis of the interdependence between DNA uptake sequence and its cognate ComP receptor during natural transformation in Neisseria species.
Berry J-L., Cehovin A., McDowell MA., Lea SM., Pelicic V.
Natural transformation is the widespread biological process by which "competent" bacteria take up free DNA, incorporate it into their genomes, and become genetically altered or "transformed". To curb often deleterious transformation by foreign DNA, several competent species preferentially take up their own DNA that contains specific DUS (DNA uptake sequence) watermarks. Our recent finding that ComP is the long sought DUS receptor in Neisseria species paves the way for the functional analysis of the DUS-ComP interdependence which is reported here. By abolishing/modulating ComP levels in Neisseria meningitidis, we show that the enhancement of transformation seen in the presence of DUS is entirely dependent on ComP, which also controls transformation in the absence of DUS. While peripheral bases in the DUS were found to be less important, inner bases are essential since single base mutations led to dramatically impaired interaction with ComP and transformation. Strikingly, naturally occurring DUS variants in the genomes of human Neisseria commensals differing from DUS by only one or two bases were found to be similarly impaired for transformation of N. meningitidis. By showing that ComPsub from the N. subflava commensal specifically binds its cognate DUS variant and mediates DUS-enhanced transformation when expressed in a comP mutant of N. meningitidis, we confirm that a similar mechanism is used by all Neisseria species to promote transformation by their own, or closely related DNA. Together, these findings shed new light on the molecular events involved in the earliest step in natural transformation, and reveal an elegant mechanism for modulating horizontal gene transfer between competent species sharing the same niche.