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J Bacteriol. 2002 Dec;184(23):6642-53.

Regulation of the hydrogenase-4 operon of Escherichia coli by the sigma(54)-dependent transcriptional activators FhlA and HyfR.

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School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, The University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AJ, United Kingdom.


The hyf locus (hyfABCDEFGHIJ-hyfR-focB) of Escherichia coli encodes a putative 10-subunit hydrogenase complex (hydrogenase-4 [Hyf]); a potential sigma(54)-dependent transcriptional activator, HyfR (related to FhlA); and a putative formate transporter, FocB (related to FocA). In order to gain insight into the physiological role of the Hyf system, we investigated hyf expression by using a hyfA-lacZ transcriptional fusion. This work revealed that hyf is induced under fermentative conditions by formate at a low pH and in an FhlA-dependent fashion. Expression was sigma(54) dependent and was inhibited by HycA, the negative transcriptional regulator of the formate regulon. Thus, hyf expression resembles that of the hyc operon. Primer extension analysis identified a transcriptional start site 30 bp upstream of the hyfA structural gene, with appropriately located -24 and -12 boxes indicative of a sigma(54)-dependent promoter. No reverse transcriptase PCR product could be detected for hyfJ-hyfR, suggesting that hyfR-focB may be independently transcribed from the rest of the hyf operon. Expression of hyf was strongly induced ( approximately 1,000-fold) in the presence of a multicopy plasmid expressing hyfR from a heterologous promoter. This induction was dependent on low pH, anaerobiosis, and postexponential growth and was weakly enhanced by formate. The hyfR-expressing plasmid increased fdhF-lacZ transcription just twofold but did not influence the expression of hycB-lacZ. Interestingly, inactivation of the chromosomal hyfR gene had no effect on hyfA-lacZ expression. Purified HyfR was found to specifically interact with the hyf promoter/operator region. Inactivation of the hyf operon had no discernible effect on growth under the range of conditions tested. No Hyf-derived hydrogenase or formate dehydrogenase activity could be detected, and no Ni-containing protein corresponding to HyfG was observed.

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