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  • Vibrio cholerae is autochthonous to various aquatic niches and is the etiological agent of the life-threatening diarrheal disease cholera. The persistence of V. cholerae in natural habitats is a crucial factor in the epidemiology of cholera. In contrast to the well-studied V. cholerae-chitin connection, scarce information is available about the factors employed by the bacteria for the interaction with collagens. Collagens might serve as biologically relevant substrates, because they are the most abundant protein constituents of metazoan tissues and V. cholerae has been identified in association with invertebrate and vertebrate marine animals, as well as in a benthic zone of the ocean where organic matter, including collagens, accumulates. Here, we describe the characterization of the V. cholerae putative collagenase, VchC, encoded by open reading frame VC1650 and belonging to the subfamily M9A peptidases. Our studies demonstrate that VchC is an extracellular collagenase degrading native type I collagen of fish and mammalian origin. Alteration of the predicted catalytic residues coordinating zinc ions completely abolished the protein enzymatic activity but did not affect the translocation of the protease by the type II secretion pathway into the extracellular milieu. We also show that the protease undergoes a maturation process with the aid of a secreted factor(s). Finally, we propose that V. cholerae is a collagenovorous bacterium, as it is able to utilize collagen as a sole nutrient source. This study initiates new lines of investigations aiming to uncover the structural and functional components of the V. cholerae collagen utilization program.
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