A long-term epigenetic memory switch controls bacterial virulence bimodality

Irine Ronin, Naama Katsowich, Ilan Rosenshine*, Nathalie Q. Balaban

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


When pathogens enter the host, sensing of environmental cues activates the expression of virulence genes. Opposite transition of pathogens from activating to non-activating conditions is poorly understood. Interestingly, variability in the expression of virulence genes upon infection enhances colonization. In order to systematically detect the role of phenotypic variability in enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), an important human pathogen, both in virulence activating and non-activating conditions, we employed the ScanLag methodology. The analysis revealed a bimodal growth rate. Mathematical modeling combined with experimental analysis showed that this bimodality is mediated by a hysteretic memory-switch that results in the stable co-existence of nonvirulent and hyper-virulent subpopulations, even after many generations of growth in non-activating conditions. We identified the per operon as the key component of the hysteretic switch. This unique hysteretic memory switch may result in persistent infection and enhanced host-to-host spreading.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere19599
StatePublished - 7 Feb 2017

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© Ronin et al.


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