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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 13;108(50):20130-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112724108. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

Dynamics of transcriptional start site selection during nitrogen stress-induced cell differentiation in Anabaena sp. PCC7120.

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  • 1Faculty of Biology, University of Freiburg, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.


The fixation of atmospheric N(2) by cyanobacteria is a major source of nitrogen in the biosphere. In Nostocales, such as Anabaena, this process is spatially separated from oxygenic photosynthesis and occurs in heterocysts. Upon nitrogen step-down, these specialized cells differentiate from vegetative cells in a process controlled by two major regulators: NtcA and HetR. However, the regulon controlled by these two factors is only partially defined, and several aspects of the differentiation process have remained enigmatic. Using differential RNA-seq, we experimentally define a genome-wide map of >10,000 transcriptional start sites (TSS) of Anabaena sp. PCC7120, a model organism for the study of prokaryotic cell differentiation and N(2) fixation. By analyzing the adaptation to nitrogen stress, our global TSS map provides insight into the dynamic changes that modify the transcriptional organization at a critical step of the differentiation process. We identify >900 TSS with minimum fold change in response to nitrogen deficiency of eight. From these TSS, at least 209 were under control of HetR, whereas at least 158 other TSS were potentially directly controlled by NtcA. Our analysis of the promoters activated during the switch to N(2) fixation adds hundreds of protein-coding genes and noncoding transcripts to the list of potentially involved factors. These data experimentally define the NtcA regulon and the DIF(+) motif, a palindrome at or close to position -35 that seems essential for heterocyst-specific expression of certain genes.

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