In gram-negative bacteria, iron acquisition proteins are commonly regulated by Fur (ferric uptake regulator), which binds iron-regulated promoters (the Fur box). We hypothesized that Coxiella burnetii requires iron and employs an iron-regulatory system and used various approaches to define a Fur regulon. Cloned C. burnetii fur complemented an Escherichia coli fur deletion mutant. A ferrous iron transporter gene (CBU1766), a putative iron binding protein-encoding gene (CBU0970), and a cation efflux pump gene (CBU1362) were identified by genome annotation and using a Fur titration assay. Bioinformatically predicted Fur box-containing promoters were tested for transcriptional control by iron. Five genes demonstrated at least a twofold induction with minimal iron. Putatively regulated genes were evaluated in a two-plasmid regulator/promoter heterologous expression system. These data suggested a very limited Fur-regulated system in C. burnetii. In an in vitro tissue culture model, a significant increase in bacterial growth was observed with infected cells treated with deferoxamine in comparison to growth under iron-replete conditions. In an iron-overloaded animal model in vivo, the level of bacterial growth detected in the iron-injected animals was significantly decreased in comparison to growth in control animals. In a low-iron-diet animal model, a significant increase in splenomegaly was observed, but no significant change in bacterial growth was identified. The small number of predicted iron acquisition systems, few Fur-regulated genes, and enhanced replication under a decreased iron level predict a requirement of a low level of iron for survival, perhaps to avoid creation of additional reactive oxygen radicals.
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