Chitin colonization, chitin degradation and chitin-induced natural competence of Vibrio cholerae are subject to catabolite repression
Although Vibrio cholerae is a human pathogen its primary habitat are aquatic environments. In this environment, V. cholerae takes advantage of the abundance of zooplankton, whose chitinous exoskeletons provide a nutritious surface. Chitin also induces the developmental programme of natural competence in several species of the genus Vibrio. Because the chitin surface can serve as the sole carbon source for V. cholerae, the link between carbon catabolite repression and chitin-induced natural competence for transformation was investigated in this study. Provision of competing phosphoenolpyruvate: carbohydrate phosphotransferase system (PTS)-dependent carbon sources in addition to chitin significantly lowered natural transformability. These sugars are known to interfere with the accumulation of 3,5- cyclic AMP (cAMP); therefore, the contributions of the cAMP-producing enzyme, adenylate cyclase and the cAMP receptor protein (CRP) to chitin surface colonization, chitin degradation and natural transformation were also analysed. The results provided here indicate that cAMP and CRP are important in at least three interlinked areas of the chitin-induced natural competence programme. First, cAMP and CRP are required for the efficient colonization of the chitin surface; second both contribute to chitin degradation and utilization, and third, cAMP plus CRP play a role in increasing competence gene expression. These findings highlight the complex regulatory circuit of chitininduced natural competence in V. cholerae.