The Specificity of ParR Binding Determines the Incompatibility of Conjugative Plasmids in Clostridium perfringens

Thomas D. Watts, Daouda A.K. Traore, Sarah C. Atkinson, Carmen Lao, Natalie Caltabiano, Julian I. Rood, Vicki Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Plasmids that encode the same replication machinery are generally unable to coexist in the same bacterial cell. However, Clostridium perfringens strains often carry multiple conjugative toxin or antibiotic resistance plasmids that are closely related and encode similar Rep proteins. In many bacteria, plasmid partitioning upon cell division involves a ParMRC system; in C. perfringens plasmids, there are approximately 10 different ParMRC families, with significant differences in amino acid sequences between each ParM family (15% to 54% identity). Since plasmids carrying genes belonging to the same ParMRC family are not observed in the same strain, these families appear to represent the basis for plasmid compatibility in C. perfringens. To understand this process, we examined the key recognition steps between ParR DNA-binding proteins and their parC binding sites. The ParR proteins bound to sequences within a parC site from the same ParMRC family but could not interact with a parC site from a different ParMRC family. These data provide evidence that compatibility of the conjugative toxin plasmids of C. perfringens is mediated by their parMRC-like partitioning systems. This process provides a selective advantage by enabling the host bacterium to maintain separate plasmids that encode toxins that are specific for different host targets. IMPORTANCE Toxins produced by the Gram-positive pathogen Clostridium perfringens are primarily encoded by genes found on different conjugative plasmids. These plasmids encode highly similar replication proteins and therefore should be incompatible, but they are often found to coexist within the same isolate. In this study, we showed that a series of phylogenetically related ParMRC plasmid partitioning systems, structures that are normally responsible for ensuring that plasmids segregate correctly at cell division, dictate which toxin plasmid combinations can coexist within the same bacterial cell. We dissected the recognition steps between the DNA-binding ParMRC component, ParR, and the plasmid-derived centromere, parC. Our data suggested a mechanism by which plasmids encoding ParMRC systems from the same family are incompatible, whereas plasmids encoding ParMRC systems from distinct families are compatible. This work provides insight into how these cells can maintain multiple highly similar toxin plasmids, which is a critical first step in understanding how to limit the disease-causing potential of C. perfringens.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • analytical ultracentrifugation
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • DNA binding
  • parC
  • ParR
  • plasmid incompatibility
  • plasmid maintenance
  • plasmid partitioning
  • surface plasmon resonance

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