BackgroundThe human pathogen Vibrio cholerae normally enters the developmental program of natural competence for transformation after colonizing chitinous surfaces. Natural competence is regulated by at least three pathways in this organism: chitin sensing/degradation, quorum sensing and carbon catabolite repression (CCR). The cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) receptor protein CRP, which is the global regulator of CCR, binds to regulatory DNA elements called CRP sites when in complex with cAMP. Previous studies in Haemophilus influenzae suggested that the CRP protein binds competence-specific CRP-S sites under competence-inducing conditions, most likely in concert with the master regulator of transformation Sxy/TfoX.ResultsIn this study, we investigated the regulation of the competence genes qstR and comEA as an example of the complex process that controls competence gene activation in V. cholerae. We identified previously unrecognized putative CRP-S sites upstream of both genes. Deletion of these motifs significantly impaired natural transformability. Moreover, site-directed mutagenesis of these sites resulted in altered gene expression. This altered gene expression also correlated directly with protein levels, bacterial capacity for DNA uptake, and natural transformability.ConclusionsBased on the data provided in this study we suggest that the identified sites are important for the expression of the competence genes qstR and comEA and therefore for natural transformability of V. cholerae even though the motifs might not reflect bona fide CRP-S sites.