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J Bacteriol. 1999 Aug;181(16):5004-16.

Identification of a new regulator in Streptococcus pneumoniae linking quorum sensing to competence for genetic transformation.

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Laboratory for Molecular Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60607, USA.


Competence for genetic transformation in Streptococcus pneumoniae is regulated by a quorum-sensing system encoded by two genetic loci, comCDE and comAB. Additional competence-specific operons, cilA, cilB, cilC, cilD, cilE, cinA-recA, coiA, and cfl, involved in the DNA uptake process and recombination, share an unusual consensus sequence at -10 and -25 in the promoter, which is absent from the promoters of comAB and comCDE. This pattern suggests that a factor regulating transcription of these transformation machinery genes but not involved with comCDE and comAB expression might be an alternative sigma factor. A search for such a global transcriptional regulator was begun by purifying pneumococcal RNA polymerase holoenzyme. In preparations from competent pneumococcal cultures a protein which seemed to be responsible for cilA transcription in vitro was identified. The corresponding gene was identified and found to be present in two copies, designated comX1 and comX2, located adjacent to two of the repeated rRNA operons. Expression of transformation machinery operons, such as cilA, cilD, cilE, and cfl, but not that of the quorum-sensing operons comAB and comCDE, was shown to depend on comX, while comX expression depended on ComE but not on ComX itself. We conclude that the factor is a competence-specific global transcription modulator which links quorum-sensing information transduced to ComE to competence and propose that it acts as an alternate sigma factor. We also report that comAB and comCDE are not sufficient for shutoff of competence-stimulating peptide-induced gene expression nor for the subsequent refractory period, suggesting that these phenomena depend on one or more ComX-dependent genes.

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