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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Feb 27;98(5):2729-34. Epub 2001 Feb 20.

Expression of the Anabaena hetR gene from a copper-regulated promoter leads to heterocyst differentiation under repressing conditions.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, 920 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Heterocyst differentiation in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120 requires a functional hetR gene. Increased expression of the hetR gene is seen in developing and mature heterocysts in response to fixed nitrogen limitation. We mapped four likely transcriptional start sites for hetR and identified a specific transcript that is positively autoregulated. By using the copper-responsive petE promoter from Anabaena PCC 7120 to drive hetR expression, we show that ectopic expression of hetR increases heterocyst frequency and induces heterocyst differentiation under fully repressing conditions. Coexpression of a reporter gene shows that expression from the petE promoter is smoothly induced depending on the amount of copper supplied. In the heterocyst pattern mutant PatA, where terminally positioned heterocysts are formed almost exclusively, expression of the petEhetR fusion does not result in the formation of intercalary heterocysts. These results suggest that although the intracellular concentration of HetR has to be elevated for the differentiation decision, PatA plays a role as well. This role may be in the form of posttranslational modification of HetR, because PatA is a member of the response regulator family of proteins.

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