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Abstract

Controlled RNA degradation is a crucial process in bacterial cell biology for maintaining proper transcriptome homeostasis and adaptation to changing environments. mRNA turnover in many Gram-positive bacteria involves a specialized ribonuclease called RNase J (RnJ). To date, however, nothing is known about this process in the diphtheria-causative pathogen Corynebacterium diphtheriae, nor is known the identity of this ribonuclease in this organism. Here, we report that C. diphtheriae DIP1463 encodes a predicted RnJ homolog, comprised of a conserved N-terminal beta-lactamase domain, followed by beta-CASP and C-terminal domains. A recombinant protein encompassing the beta-lactamase domain alone displays 5 '-exoribonuclease activity, which is abolished by alanine-substitution of the conserved catalytic residues His(186) and His(188). Intriguingly, deletion of DIP1463/rnj in C. diphtheriae reduces bacterial growth and generates cell shape abnormality with markedly augmented cell width. Comparative RNA-seq analysis revealed that RnJ controls a large regulon encoding many factors predicted to be involved in biosynthesis, regulation, transport, and iron acquisition. One upregulated gene in the increment rnj mutant is ftsH, coding for a membrane protease (FtsH) involved in cell division, whose overexpression in the wild-type strain also caused cell-width augmentation. Critically, the increment rnj mutant is severely attenuated in virulence in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of infection, while the FtsH-overexpressing and toxin-less strains exhibit full virulence as the wild-type strain. Evidently, RNase J is a key ribonuclease in C. diphtheriae that post-transcriptionally influences the expression of numerous factors vital to corynebacterial cell physiology and virulence. Our findings have significant implications for basic biological processes and mechanisms of corynebacterial pathogenesis.