Two-component gene regulatory systems (TCSs) are a major mechanism by which bacteria respond to environmental stimuli and thus are critical to infectivity. For example, the control of virulence regulator/sensor kinase (CovRS) TCS is central to the virulence of the major human pathogen group A Streptococcus (GAS). Here, we used a combination of quantitative in vivo phosphorylation assays, isoallelic strains that varied by only a single amino acid in CovS, and transcriptome analyses to characterize the impact of CovS on CovR phosphorylation and GAS global gene expression. We discovered that CovS primarily serves to phosphorylate CovR, thereby resulting in the repression of virulence factor-encoding genes. However, a GAS strain selectively deficient in CovS phosphatase activity had a distinct transcriptome relative to that of its parental strain, indicating that both CovS kinase and phosphatase activities influence the CovR phosphorylation status. Surprisingly, compared to a serotype M3 strain, serotype M1 GAS strains had high levels of phosphorylated CovR, low transcript levels of CovR-repressed genes, and strikingly different responses to environmental cues. Moreover, the inactivation of CovS in the serotype M1 background resulted in a greater decrease in phosphorylated CovR levels and a greater increase in the transcript levels of CovR-repressed genes than did CovS inactivation in a serotype M3 strain. These data clarify the influence of CovS on the CovR phosphorylation status and provide insight into why serotype M1 GAS strains have high rates of spontaneous mutations in covS during invasive GAS infection, thus providing a link between TCS molecular function and the epidemiology of deadly bacterial infections. Copyright © 2015, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
Journal: Infection and immunity