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J Bacteriol. 1997 May;179(9):2922-9.

A mycobacterial extracytoplasmic function sigma factor involved in survival following stress.

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  • 1Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factors constitute a diverse group of alternative sigma factors that have been demonstrated to regulate gene expression in response to environmental conditions in several bacterial species. Genes encoding an ECF sigma factor of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium avium, and Mycobacterium smegmatis, designated sigE, were cloned and analyzed. Southern blot analysis demonstrated the presence of a single copy of this gene in these species and in Mycobacterium bovis BCG, Mycobacterium leprae, and Mycobacterium fortuitum. Sequence analysis showed the sigE gene to be highly conserved among M. tuberculosis, M. avium, M. smegmatis, and M. leprae. Recombinant M. tuberculosis SigE, when combined with core RNA polymerase from M. smegmatis, reconstituted specific RNA polymerase activity on sigE in vitro, demonstrating that this gene encodes a functional sigma factor. Two in vivo transcription start sites for sigE were also identified in M. smegmatis and M. bovis BCG. Comparison of wild-type M. smegmatis with a sigE mutant strain demonstrated decreased survival of the mutant under conditions of high-temperature heat shock, acidic pH, exposure to detergent, and oxidative stress. An inducible protective response to oxidative stress present in the wild type was absent in the mutant. The mycobacterial SigE protein, although nonessential for viability in vitro, appears to play a role in the ability of these organisms to withstand a variety of stresses.

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