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Microbiol Rev. Mar 1993; 57(1): 1–33.
PMCID: PMC372899

Bacillus subtilis sporulation: regulation of gene expression and control of morphogenesis.

Abstract

Bacillus subtilis sporulation is an adaptive response to nutritional stress and involves the differential development of two cells. In the last 10 years or so, virtually all of the regulatory genes controlling sporulation, and many genes directing the structural and morphological changes that accompany sporulation, have been cloned and characterized. This review describes our current knowledge of the program of gene expression during sporulation and summarizes what is known about the functions of the genes that determine the specialized biochemical and morphological properties of sporulating cells. Most steps in the genetic program are controlled by transcription factors that have been characterized in vitro. Two sporulation-specific sigma factors, sigma E and sigma F, appear to segregate at septation, effectively determining the differential development of the mother cell and prespore. Later, each sigma is replaced by a second cell-specific sigma factor, sigma K in the mother cell and sigma G in the prespore. The synthesis of each sigma factor is tightly regulated at both the transcriptional and posttranslational levels. Usually this regulation involves an intercellular interaction that coordinates the developmental programmes of the two cells. At least two other transcription factors fine tune the timing and levels of expression of genes in the sigma E and sigma K regulons. The controlled synthesis of the sigma factors and other transcription factors leads to a spatially and temporally ordered program of gene expression. The gene products made during each successive stage of sporulation help to bring about a sequence of gross morphological changes and biochemical adaptations. The formation of the asymmetric spore septum, engulfment of the prespore by the mother cell, and formation of the spore core, cortex, and coat are described. The importance of these structures in the development of the resistance, dormancy, and germination properties of the spore is assessed.

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