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Haemophilus influenzae is an important human pathogen. The lipooligosaccharide (LOS) of H. influenzae has been implicated as a virulence determinant. To better understand the assembly of LOS in nontypeable H. influenzae (NtHi), we have cloned and characterized the rfaD and rfaF genes of NtHi 2019, which encode the ADP-L-glycero-D-manno-heptose-6-epimerase and heptosyltransferase II enzymes, respectively. This cloning was accomplished by the complementation of Salmonella typhimurium lipopolysaccharide (LPS) biosynthesis gene mutants. These deep rough mutants are novobiocin susceptible until complemented with the appropriate gene. In this manner, we are able to use novobiocin resistance to select for specific NtHi LOS inner core biosynthesis genes. Such a screening system yielded a plasmid with a 4.8-kb insert. This plasmid was able to complement both rfaD and rfaF mutants of S. typhimurium. The LPS of these complemented strains appeared identical to the wild-type Salmonella LPS. The genes encoding the rfaD and rfaF genes from NtHi 2019 were sequenced and found to be similar to the analogous genes from S. typhimurium and Escherichia coli. The rfaD gene encodes a polypeptide of 35 kDa and the rfaF encodes a protein of 39 kDa, as demonstrated by in vitro transcription-translation studies. Isogenic mutants which demonstrated truncated LOS consistent with inner core biosynthesis mutants were constructed in the NtHi strain 2019. Primer extension analysis demonstrated the presence of a strong promoter upstream of rfaD but suggested only a very weak promoter upstream of rfaF. Complementation studies, however, suggest that the rfaF gene does have an independent promoter. Mass spectrometric analysis shows that the LOS molecules expressed by H. influenzae rfaD and rfaF mutant strains have identical molecular masses. Additional studies verified that in the rfaD mutant strain, D-glycero-D-manno-heptose is added to the LOS molecule in place of the usual L-glycero-D-manno-heptose. Finally, the genetic organizations of the inner core biosynthesis genes of S. typhimurium, E. coli, and several strains of H. influenzae were examined, and substantial differences were uncovered.


This article was published by the American Society for Microbiology and is available at: