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Microbiology. 2001 Mar;147(Pt 3):591-8.

A role for DNA supercoiling in the regulation of the cytochrome bd oxidase of Escherichia coli.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College Road, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


The cydAB operon of Escherichia coli encodes cytochrome bd, a terminal oxidase in the aerobic respiratory chain. The high oxygen affinity of this oxidase explains its increased synthesis under low-oxygen conditions. Expression of the cydAB operon is controlled by the ArcA/ArcB two-component system and the oxygen-sensing transcriptional regulator Fnr. However, cydAB expression is still induced upon entry into stationary phase or following a shift to anaerobic conditions in a mutant deleted for arcA and fnr [Cotter, P. A. & Gunsalus, R. P. (1992), FEMS Microbiol Lett 91, 31-36]. Indeed, such a mutant contains 60% of the wild-type levels of spectrally detectable cytochrome bd. A possible mechanism to account for this regulation is that changes in negative supercoiling, which occur during a shift to low-oxygen or anaerobic conditions, may contribute to the regulation of the cydAB operon. This paper reports several lines of evidence in support of this idea. Firstly, the expression of cydAB, and the final level of spectrally detectable cytochrome bd, is sensitive to inhibitors of DNA gyrase, the enzyme responsible for introducing negative supercoils into DNA. Both nalidixic acid and novobiocin reduce cydA-lacZ expression in a concentration-dependent manner. Secondly, in a gyrA mutant, defective in DNA gyrase activity, expression of cydAB is reduced to a basal level that is no longer sensitive to the oxygen status. Both gyrase inhibitors and the gyrA mutation reduce cydAB expression in a strain deleted for arcA and fnr, indicating that their effects are not mediated indirectly through ArcA or Fnr, but rather that they are likely to be direct effects on cydAB expression. In conclusion, the authors have shown that changes in DNA supercoiling play a role in the induction of cydAB expression and may provide a general way of increasing cytochrome bd levels in the cell in response to environmental stress.

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