Three temporal classes of gene expression during the Chlamydia trachomatis developmental cycle

E. I. Shaw, C. A. Dooley, E. R. Fischer, M. A. Scidmore, K. A. Fields, T. Hackstadt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


The obligate intracellular bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis has a unique developmental cycle that involves functionally and morphologically distinct cell types adapted for extracellular survival and intracellular multiplication. Infection is initiated by an environmentally resistant cell type called an elementary body (EB). Over the first several hours of infection, EBs differentiate into a larger replicative form, termed the reticulate body (RB). Late in the infectious process, RBs asynchronously begin to differentiate back to EBs, which accumulate within the lumen of the inclusion until released from the host cell for subsequent rounds of infection. In an effort to characterize temporal gene expression in relation to the chlamydial developmental cycle, we have used quantitative-competitive polymerase chain reaction (QC-PCR) and reverse transcription (RT)-PCR techniques. These analyses demonstrate that C. trachomatis double their DNA content every 2-3 h, with synthesis beginning between 2 and 4 h after infection. We determined the onset of transcription of specific temporal classes of developmentally expressed genes. RT-PCR analysis was performed on several genes encoding key enzymes or components of essential biochemical pathways and functions. This comparison encompassed approximately 8% of open reading frames on the C. trachomatis genome. In analysis of total RNA samples harvested at 2, 6, 12 and 20 h after infection, using conditions under which a single chlamydial transcript per infected cell is detected, three major temporal classes of gene expression were resolved. Initiation of transcription appears to occur in three temporal classes which we have operationally defined as: early, which are detected by 2 h after infection during the germination of EBs to RBs; mid-cycle, which appear between 6 and 12 h after infection and represent transcripts expressed during the growth and multiplication of RBs; or late, which appear between 12 and 20 h after infection and represent those genes transcribed during the terminal differentiation of RBs to EBs. Collectively, the data suggest that chlamydial early gene functions are weighted toward initiation of macromolecular synthesis and the establishment of their intracellular niche by modification of the inclusion membrane. Surprisingly, representative enzymes of intermediary metabolism and structural proteins do not appear to be transcribed until 10-12 h after infection; coinciding with the onset of observed binary fission of RBs. Late gene functions appear to be predominately those associated with the terminal differentiation of RBs back to EBs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-925
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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