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Mol Microbiol. 2000 Sep;37(5):1159-71.

Divergent structure of the ComQXPA quorum-sensing components: molecular basis of strain-specific communication mechanism in Bacillus subtilis.

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Division of Applied Microbiology, National Food Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Kannondai 2-1-2, Tsukuba 305-8642, Japan.


In Bacillus subtilis, the ComQXPA quorum-sensing system controls cell density-dependent phenotypes such as the production of degradative enzymes and antibiotics and the development of genetic competence. Bacillus subtilis (natto) NAF12, a mutant defective in poly-gamma-glutamate (gamma-PGA) production, was derived from B. subtilis (natto) NAF4 by Tn917-LTV1 insertional mutagenesis. Determination of the mutant DNA sequences flanking the Tn917-LTV1 insert revealed that the insertion had inactivated comP in this mutant, indicating that gamma-PGA synthesis in B. subtilis (natto) is under the control of the ComP-ComA signal transduction system. A comparison of the amino acid sequences revealed striking variation in the primary structures of ComQ (44% identity), ComX (26%) and the sensor domain of ComP (36%) between B. subtilis (natto) NAF4 and B. subtilis 168. In contrast, the amino acid and nucleotide sequences of the kinase domains of ComP and of the ComA response regulator share 95% and 100% identity respectively. The comP genes of NAF4 and 168 restored the impaired competence of B. subtilis BD1658 (comP:cat) and gamma-PGA production of B. subtilis (natto) NAF12 (comP:Tn917-LTV1) to only 15% of the level achieved by the respective parent comP genes. However, when introduced together with the cognate comQ and comX genes, the comP genes restored the relevant defect of the heterologous comP mutants nearly to wild-type levels. Analogous to the comCDE system of Streptococcus strains and the agrBCDE system of Staphylococcus aureus, the concerted variation in the comQXP genes appears to establish specific intercellular communication between B. subtilis strains sharing the same pheromone system.

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