The Periplasmic Tail-Specific Protease, Tsp, Is Essential for Secondary Differentiation in Chlamydia trachomatis

Abigail R. Swoboda, Nicholas A. Wood, Elizabeth A. Saery, Derek J. Fisher, Scot P. Ouellette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The obligate intracellular human pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis (Ctr) undergoes a complex developmental cycle in which the bacterium differentiates between two functionally and morphologically distinct forms: the elementary body (EB) and the reticulate body (RB). The EB is the smaller, infectious, nondividing form which initiates infection of a susceptible host cell, whereas the RB is the larger, non-infectious form which replicates within a membrane-bound vesicle called an inclusion. The mechanism(s) which drives differentiation between these developmental forms is poorly understood. Bulk protein turnover is likely required for chlamydial differentiation given the significant differences in the protein repertoires and functions of the EB and RB. We hypothesize that periplasmic protein turnover is also critical for the reorganization of an RB into an EB, referred to as secondary differentiation. Ct441 is a periplasmic protease ortholog of tail-specific proteases (i.e., Tsp, Prc) and is expressed in Ctr during secondary differentiation. We investigated the effect of altering Tsp expression on developmental cycle progression. Through assessment of bacterial morphology and infectious progeny production, we found that both overexpression and CRISPR interference/dCas9 (CRISPRi)-mediated knockdown of Tsp negatively impacted chlamydial development through different mechanisms. We also confirmed that catalytic activity is required for the negative effect of overexpression and confirmed the effect of the mutation in in vitro assays. Electron microscopic assessments during knockdown experiments revealed a defect in EB morphology, directly linking Tsp function to secondary differentiation. These data implicate Ct441/Tsp as a critical factor in secondary differentiation. IMPORTANCE The human pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis is the leading cause of preventable infectious blindness and bacterial sexually transmitted infections worldwide. This pathogen has a unique developmental cycle that alternates between distinct forms. However, the key processes of chlamydial development remain obscure. Uncovering the mechanisms of differentiation between its metabolically and functionally distinct developmental forms may foster the discovery of novel Chlamydia-specific therapeutics and limit development of resistant bacterial populations derived from the clinical use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. In this study, we investigate chlamydial tail-specific protease (Tsp) and its function in chlamydial growth and development. Our work implicates Tsp as essential to chlamydial developmental cycle progression and indicates that Tsp is a potential drug target for Chlamydia infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Chlamydia
  • Prc
  • Tsp
  • development
  • differentiation
  • periplasm
  • protease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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