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J Bacteriol. 1998 Jul;180(14):3620-8.

Differential regulation of Rhizobium etli rpoN2 gene expression during symbiosis and free-living growth.

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  • 1F. A. Janssens Laboratory of Genetics, K. U. Leuven, B-3001 Heverlee, Belgium.


The Rhizobium etli rpoN1 gene, encoding the alternative sigma factor sigma54 (RpoN), was recently characterized and shown to be involved in the assimilation of several nitrogen and carbon sources during free-living aerobic growth (J. Michiels, T. Van Soom, I. D'hooghe, B. Dombrecht, T. Benhassine, P. de Wilde, and J. Vanderleyden, J. Bacteriol. 180:1729-1740, 1998). We identified a second rpoN gene copy in R. etli, rpoN2, encoding a 54.0-kDa protein which displays 59% amino acid identity with the R. etli RpoN1 protein. The rpoN2 gene is cotranscribed with a short open reading frame, orf180, which codes for a protein with a size of 20.1 kDa that is homologous to several prokaryotic and eukaryotic proteins of similar size. In contrast to the R. etli rpoN1 mutant strain, inactivation of the rpoN2 gene did not produce any phenotypic defects during free-living growth. However, symbiotic nitrogen fixation was reduced by approximately 90% in the rpoN2 mutant, whereas wild-type levels of nitrogen fixation were observed in the rpoN1 mutant strain. Nitrogen fixation was completely abolished in the rpoN1 rpoN2 double mutant. Expression of rpoN1 was negatively autoregulated during aerobic growth and was reduced during microaerobiosis and symbiosis. In contrast, rpoN2-gusA and orf180-gusA fusions were not expressed aerobically but were strongly induced at low oxygen tensions or in bacteroids. Expression of rpoN2 and orf180 was abolished in R. etli rpoN1 rpoN2 and nifA mutants under all conditions tested. Under free-living microaerobic conditions, transcription of rpoN2 and orf180 required the RpoN1 protein. In symbiosis, expression of rpoN2 and orf180 occurred independently of the rpoN1 gene, suggesting the existence of an alternative symbiosis-specific mechanism of transcription activation.

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