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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Mar 3;106(9):3467-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0810291106. Epub 2009 Feb 13.

Sigma factor mimicry involved in regulation of general stress response.

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  • 1Institute of Microbiology, Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland.


Bacteria have evolved regulatory traits to rapidly adapt to changing conditions. Two principal regulatory mechanisms to modulate gene expression consist of regulation via alternative sigma factors and phosphorylation-dependent response regulators. PhyR represents a recently discovered protein family combining parts of both systems: a sigma factor-like domain of the extracytoplasmic function (ECF) subfamily linked to a receiver domain of a response regulator. Here we investigated the mode of action of this key regulator of general stress response in Methylobacterium extorquens. Our results indicate that PhyR does not act as a genuine sigma factor but instead controls gene expression indirectly through protein-protein interactions. This is evident from the analysis of additional proteins involved in PhyR-dependent gene regulation. We demonstrated that the ECF sigma factor-like domain of PhyR interacts with a protein, designated NepR, upon phosphorylation of the PhyR receiver domain. Using transcriptome analysis and phenotypic assays, we showed that NepR is a negative regulator of PhyR response. Furthermore, we provide biochemical and genetic evidence that NepR exerts this inhibitory effect through sequestration of the ECF sigma factor sigma(EcfG1). Our data support an unprecedented model according to which PhyR acts as a mimicry protein triggering a partner-switching mechanism. Such a regulation of general stress response clearly differs from the two known models operating via sigma(S) and sigma(B). Given the absence of these master regulators and the concomitant conservation of PhyR in Alphaproteobacteria, the novel mechanism presented here is most likely central to the control of general stress response in this large subclass of Proteobacteria.

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