Shiratsuchi A, Nitta M, Kuroda A, Komiyama C, Gawasawa M, Shimamoto N, Tuan TQ, Morita T, Aiba H, Nakanishi Y.
An RNA chaperone of Escherichia coli, called host factor required for phage Qβ RNA replication (Hfq), forms a complex with small noncoding RNAs to facilitate their binding to target mRNA for the alteration of translation efficiency and stability. Although the role of Hfq in the virulence and drug resistance of bacteria has been suggested, how this RNA chaperone controls the infectious state remains unknown. In the present study, we addressed this issue using Drosophila melanogaster as a host for bacterial infection. In an assay for abdominal infection using adult flies, an E. coli strain with mutation in hfq was eliminated earlier, whereas flies survived longer compared with infection with a parental strain. The same was true with flies deficient in humoral responses, but the mutant phenotypes were not observed when a fly line with impaired hemocyte phagocytosis was infected. The results from an assay for phagocytosis in vitro revealed that Hfq inhibits the killing of E. coli by Drosophila phagocytes after engulfment. Furthermore, Hfq seemed to exert this action partly through enhancing the expression of σ(38), a stress-responsive σ factor that was previously shown to be involved in the inhibition of phagocytic killing of E. coli, by a posttranscriptional mechanism. Our study indicates that the RNA chaperone Hfq contributes to the persistent infection of E. coli by maintaining the expression of bacterial genes, including one coding for σ(38), that help bacteria evade host immunity.