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Recent Publication

The WalRK Two-Component System Is Essential for Proper Cell Envelope Biogenesis in Clostridioides difficile


The WalR-WalK two-component regulatory system (TCS) is found in all Firmicutes, in which it regulates the expression of multiple genes required for remodeling the cell envelope during growth and division. Unlike most TCSs, WalRK is essential for viability, so it has attracted interest as a potential antibiotic target. In this study, we used overexpression of WalR and CRISPR interference to investigate the Wal system of Clostridioides difficile, a major cause of hospital-associated diarrhea in high-income countries. We confirmed that the wal operon is essential and identified morphological defects and cell lysis as the major terminal phenotypes of altered wal expression. We also used transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) to identify over 150 genes whose expression changes in response to WalR levels. This gene set is enriched in cell envelope genes and includes genes encoding several predicted PG hydrolases and proteins that could regulate PG hydrolase activity. A distinct feature of the C. difficile cell envelope is the presence of an S-layer, and we found that WalR affects expression of several genes which encode S-layer proteins. An unexpected finding was that some Wal-associated phenotypic defects were inverted in comparison to what has been reported for other Firmicutes. For example, downregulation of Wal signaling caused C. difficile cells to become longer rather than shorter, as in Bacillus subtilis. Likewise, downregulation of Wal rendered C. difficile more sensitive to vancomycin, whereas reduced Wal activity is linked to increased vancomycin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus. IMPORTANCE The WalRK two-component system (TCS) is essential for coordinating synthesis and turnover of peptidoglycan in Firmicutes. We investigated the WalRK TCS in Clostridioides difficile, an important bacterial pathogen with an atypical cell envelope. We confirmed that WalRK is essential and regulates cell envelope biogenesis, although several of the phenotypic changes we observed were opposite to what has been reported for other Firmicutes. We also identified over 150 genes whose expression is controlled either directly or indirectly by WalR. Overall, our findings provide a foundation for future investigations of an important regulatory system and potential antibiotic target in C. difficile.


  • Ute Müh, Craig D Ellermeier, David S Weiss