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Mol Microbiol. 1999 Nov;34(4):714-25.

Sporulation timing in Myxococcus xanthus is controlled by the espAB locus.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, 401 Barker Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3204, USA.


The fruiting body development of Myxococcus xanthus consists of two separate but interacting pathways: one for aggregation of many cells to form raised mounds and the other for sporulation of individual cells into myxospores. Sporulation of individual cells normally occurs after mound formation, and is delayed at least 30 h after starvation under our laboratory conditions. This suggests that M. xanthus has a mechanism that monitors progress towards aggregation prior to triggering sporulation. A null mutation in a newly identified gene, espA (early sporulation), causes sporulation to occur much earlier compared with the wild type (16 h earlier). In contrast, a null mutation in an adjacent gene, espB, delays sporulation by about 16 h compared with the wild type. Interestingly, it appears that the espA mutant does not require raised mounds for sporulation. Many mutant cells sporulate outside the fruiting bodies. In addition, the mutant can sporulate, without aggregation into raised mounds, under some conditions in which cells normally do not form fruiting bodies. Based on these observations, it is hypothesized that EspA functions as an inhibitor of sporulation during early fruiting body development while cells are aggregating into raised mounds. The aggregation-independent sporulation of the espA mutant still requires starvation and high cell density. The espA and espB genes are expressed as an operon and their translations appear to be coupled. Expression occurs only under developmental conditions and does not occur during vegetative growth or during glycerol-induced sporulation. Sequence analysis of EspA indicates that it is a histidine protein kinase with a fork head-associated (FHA) domain at the N-terminus and a receiver domain at the C-terminus. This suggests that EspA is part of a two-component signal transduction system that regulates the timing of sporulation initiation.

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