Genomewide transcriptional responses of iron-starved chlamydia trachomatis reveal prioritization of metabolic precursor synthesis over protein translation

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23 Scopus citations


Iron is essential for growth and development of Chlamydia. Its longterm starvation in cultured mammalian cells leads to production of aberrant noninfectious chlamydial forms, also known as persistence. Immediate transcriptional responses to iron limitation have not been characterized, leaving a knowledge gap of how Chlamydia regulates its response to changes in iron availability. We used the fast-chelating agent 2,2'-bipyridyl (BPDL) to homogeneously starve Chlamydia trachomatis serovar L2 of iron, starting at 6 or 12 h postinfection. Immediate transcriptional responses were monitored after only 3 or 6 h of BPDL treatment, well before formation of aberrant Chlamydia. The first genomewide transcriptional response of C. trachomatis to iron starvation was subsequently determined utilizing RNA sequencing. Only 7% and 8% of the genome were differentially expressed in response to iron starvation at the early and middle stages of development, respectively. Biological pathway analysis revealed an overarching theme. Synthesis of macromolecular precursors (deoxynucleotides, amino acids, charged tRNAs, and acetyl coenzyme A [acetyl-CoA]) was upregulated, while energy-expensive processes (ABC transport and translation) were downregulated. A large fraction of differentially downregulated genes are involved in translation, including those encoding ribosome assembly and initiation and termination factors, which could be analogous to the translation downregulation triggered by stress in other prokaryotes during stringent responses. Additionally, transcriptional upregulation of DNA repair, oxidative stress, and tryptophan salvage genes reveals a possible coordination of responses to multiple antimicrobial and immunological insults. These responses of replicative-phase Chlamydia to iron starvation indicate a prioritization of survival over replication, enabling the pathogen to "stock the pantry"with ingredients needed for rapid growth once optimal iron levels are restored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00184
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Chlamydia
  • Global regulatory networks
  • Intracellular bacteria
  • Iron reduction
  • Microbiology
  • Stress response
  • Stringent response
  • Systems
  • Transcriptional regulation
  • Translational control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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