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J Bacteriol. 2014 Mar;196(5):1113-21. doi: 10.1128/JB.01372-13. Epub 2013 Dec 27.

Expanding the direct HetR regulon in Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


In response to a lack of environmental combined nitrogen, the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120 differentiates nitrogen-fixing heterocyst cells in a periodic pattern. HetR is a transcription factor that coordinates the regulation of this developmental program. An inverted repeat-containing sequence in the hepA promoter required for proheterocyst-specific transcription was identified based on sequence similarity to a previously characterized binding site for HetR in the promoter of hetP. The binding affinity of HetR for the hepA site is roughly an order of magnitude lower than that for the hetP binding site. A BLAST search of the Anabaena genome identified 166 hepA-like sites that occur as single or tandem sites (two binding sites separated by 13 bp). The vast majority of these sites are present in predicted intergenic regions. HetR bound five representative single binding sites in vitro, and binding was abrogated by transversions in the binding sites that conserved the inverted repeat nature of the sites. Binding to four representative tandem sites was not observed. Transcriptional fusions of the green fluorescent protein gene gfp with putative promoter regions associated with the representative binding sites indicated that HetR could function as either an activator or repressor and that activation was cell-type specific. Taken together, we have expanded the direct HetR regulon and propose a model in which three categories of HetR binding sites, based on binding affinity and nucleotide sequence, contribute to three of the four phases of differentiation.

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