Background: Clostridium perfringens type A food poisoning (FP) is usually caused by C. perfringens type A strains that carry a chromosomal enterotoxin gene (cpe) and produce spores with exceptional resistance against heat and nitrites. Previous studies showed that the extreme resistance of spores made by most FP strains is mediated, in large part, by a variant of small acid soluble protein 4 (Ssp4) that has Asp at residue 36; in contrast, the sensitive spores made by other C. perfringens type A isolates contain an Ssp4 variant with Gly at residue 36. Methodology/Principal Findings: The current study has further characterized Ssp4 properties and expression. Spores made by cpe-positive type C and D strains were found to contain the Ssp4 variant with Gly at residue 36 and were shown to be heat- and nitrite-sensitive; this finding may help to explain why cpe-positive type C and D isolates rarely cause food poisoning. Saturation mutagenesis indicated that both amino acid size and charge at Ssp4 residue 36 are important for DNA binding and for spore resistance. C. perfringens Ssp2 was shown to bind preferentially to GC-rich DNA on gel-shift assays, while Ssp4 preferred binding to AT-rich DNA sequences. Maximal spore heat and nitrite resistance required production of all four C. perfringens Ssps, indicating that these Ssps act cooperatively to protect the spore's DNA, perhaps by binding to different chromosomal sequences. The Ssp4 variant with Asp at residue 36 was also shown to facilitate exceptional spore survival at freezer and refrigerator temperatures. Finally, Ssp4 expression was shown to be dependent upon Spo0A, a master regulator. Conclusions/Significance: Collectively, these results provide additional support for the importance of Ssps, particularly the Ssp4 variant with Asp at residue 36, for the extreme spore resistance phenotype that likely contributes to C. perfringens type A food poisoning transmission.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)