Stephen Spiro

Stephen Spiro

C.L. and Amelia A. Lundell Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences
Professor - Biological Sciences
Associate Provost
Spiro Lab
Tags: Microbiology Molecular Biology

Professional Preparation

Ph.D. - Microbiology
University of Sheffield
B.Sc. - Molecular Biology
University of Edinburgh

Research Areas

Dr. Spiro's research is currently focused on responses to nitric oxide, a toxic free radical that is a by-product of normal metabolic processes in bacteria, as well as being a chemical defense synthesized by host phagocytic cells in response to infection by pathogenic microorganisms.

Research Interests
Nitric oxide (NO) is a water-soluble free-radical gas that is toxic in biological systems by virtue of its reactivity towards proteins, metal ions, lipids and DNA.  Eukaryotic phagocytic cells exploit this toxicity by synthesizing NO as one of the arsenal of poisonous molecules that are used to kill invading pathogens.  Successful intra-cellular pathogens (such as Salmonella and Mycobacterium species) are able to resist phagocyte killing mechanisms.  There is increasing evidence that the ability to detoxify NO is required by some pathogens for survival inside host cells. 

NO is also synthesized by Bacteria as an intermediate or by-product of normal respiratory processes.  Specifically, nitrite can be used as an electron acceptor for anaerobic respiration by the denitrifying Bacteria, which reduce nitrite to NO, and also use NO as an electron acceptor, reducing it to nitrous oxide.  The enteric Bacteria reduce nitrite to ammonia, but also catalyze the reduction of nitrite to NO, such that NO is made at a low concentration as a by-product of nitrite respiration.  Escherichia coli has three enzymes that reduce or oxidize NO to less toxic compounds, and we speculate that one or more of these enzymes has a role in protecting the cell against the NO that is made endogenously from nitrite.  The same enzymes may allow pathogens such as Salmonella to detoxify the NO made by host cells.

All three NO detoxification systems are up-regulated by exposure to nitrite or NO, and our major interest is to characterize the regulatory mechanisms involved, using E. coli as a model system.  We study a transcriptional activator called NorR, which controls expression of the genes encoding a flavorubredoxin that reduces NO to nitrous oxide under anaerobic conditions.  We have defined the mechanism of NO sensing by NorR and charaterized the cis-acting regulatory sequences required for transcriptional regulation.  Future work will continue to probe structure-function relationships in the NorR protein, and to identify any additional genes that are regulated by NorR.

We recently discovered a transcriptional repressor, NsrR, that regulates expression of a flavohemoglobin, which oxidizes NO to nitrate.  NsrR regulates at least three other genes, the products of which have poorly defined roles in mediating NO resistance.  An important goal now is to study the biochemistry of NsrR, with a view to understanding the mechanism by which repression is relieved by NO.  We have recently used chromatin immunoprecipitation and microarray analysis (ChIP-on-chip) to define NsrR binding sites across the entire E. coli genome.  This study has revealed that there are many more targets for NsrR regulation than we previously suspected, most of which do not have obvious roles in NO detoxification.  Future work will use genetic, molecular and physiological approaches to probe the roles of NsrR-regulated genes.  

In a broader sense, the lab is interested in defining the enzymatic source(s) of NO during nitrite respiration.  We are interested to identify the proteins that provide protection against endogenously generated NO, and to identify the major cellular targets for the low concentrations of NO that are made during nitrite respiration.  


Another Target for NO - Journal Article
Metalloregulatory proteins and nitric oxide signalling in bacteria - Journal Article
NO resistant alternative oxidase - Journal Article
The FNR family of transcriptional regulators - Journal Article
Environmental and Genetic Determinants of Biofilm Formation in Paracoccus denitrificans 2017 - Journal Article
Genome-wide analysis of the response to nitric oxide in uropathogenic Escherichia coli CFT073 2015 - Journal Article
Inefficient translation of nsrR constrains behaviour of the NsrR regulon in Escherichia coli 2015 - Journal Article
Finely Tuned Regulation of the Aromatic Amine Degradation Pathway in Escherichia coli. 2013 - Journal Article