Differential RNA-seq of Vibrio cholerae identifies the VqmR small RNA as a regulator of biofilm formation.
Quorum sensing (QS) is a process of cell-to-cell communication that enables bacteria to transition between individual and collective lifestyles. QS controls virulence and biofilm formation in Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera disease. Differential RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) of wild-type V. cholerae and a locked low-cell-density QS-mutant strain identified 7,240 transcriptional start sites with ∼ 47% initiated in the antisense direction. A total of 107 of the transcripts do not appear to encode proteins, suggesting they specify regulatory RNAs. We focused on one such transcript that we name VqmR. vqmR is located upstream of the vqmA gene encoding a DNA-binding transcription factor. Mutagenesis and microarray analyses demonstrate that VqmA activates vqmR transcription, that vqmR encodes a regulatory RNA, and VqmR directly controls at least eight mRNA targets including the rtx (repeats in toxin) toxin genes and the vpsT transcriptional regulator of biofilm production. We show that VqmR inhibits biofilm formation through repression of vpsT. Together, these data provide to our knowledege the first global annotation of the transcriptional start sites in V. cholerae and highlight the importance of posttranscriptional regulation for collective behaviors in this human pathogen.