Tag-Dependent Substrate Selection of ClpX Underlies Secondary Differentiation of Chlamydia trachomatis

Nicholas A. Wood, Abigail R. Swoboda, Amanda M. Blocker, Derek J. Fisher, Scot P. Ouellette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Despite having a highly reduced genome, Chlamydia trachomatis undergoes a complex developmental cycle in which the bacteria differentiate between the following two functionally and morphologically distinct forms: the infectious, nonreplicative elementary body (EB) and the noninfectious, replicative reticulate body (RB). The transitions between EBs and RBs are not mediated by division events that redistribute intracellular proteins. Rather, both primary (EB to RB) and secondary (RB to EB) differentiation likely require bulk protein turnover. One system for targeted protein degradation is the trans-translation system for ribosomal rescue, where polypeptides stalled during translation are marked with an SsrA tag encoded by a hybrid tRNA-mRNA, tmRNA. ClpX recognizes the SsrA tag, leading to ClpXP-mediated degradation. We hypothesize that ClpX functions in chlamydial differentiation through targeted protein degradation. We found that mutation of a key residue (R230A) within the specific motif in ClpX associated with the recognition of SsrA-tagged substrates resulted in abrogated secondary differentiation while not reducing chlamydial replication or developmental cycle progression as measured by transcripts. Furthermore, inhibition of trans-translation through chemical and targeted genetic approaches also impeded chlamydial development. Knockdown of tmRNA and subsequent complementation with an allele mutated in the SsrA tag closely phenocopied the overexpression of ClpXR230A, thus suggesting that ClpX recognition of SsrA-tagged substrates plays a critical function in secondary differentiation. Taken together, these data provide mechanistic insight into the requirements for transitions between chlamydial developmental forms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Chlamydia
  • Clp protease
  • ClpX
  • SsrA
  • differentiation
  • protein quality control
  • protein turnover
  • tmRNA
  • trans-translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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