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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Jan;47(2):303-20.

Phosphate availability regulates biosynthesis of two antibiotics, prodigiosin and carbapenem, in Serratia via both quorum-sensing-dependent and -independent pathways.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 1QW, UK.


Serratia sp. ATCC 39006 produces two secondary metabolite antibiotics, 1-carbapen-2-em-3-carboxylic acid (Car) and the red pigment, prodigiosin (Pig). We have previously reported that production of Pig and Car is controlled by N-acyl homoserine lactone (N-AHL) quorum sensing, with synthesis of N-AHLs directed by the LuxI homologue SmaI, and is also regulated by Rap, a member of the SlyA family. We now describe further characterization of the SmaI quorum-sensing system and its connection with other regulatory mechanisms. We show that the genes responsible for biosynthesis of Pig, pigA-O, are transcribed as a single polycistronic message in an N-AHL-dependent manner. The smaR gene, transcribed convergently with smaI and predicted to encode the LuxR homologue partner of SmaI, was shown to possess a negative regulatory function, which is uncommon among the LuxR-type transcriptional regulators. SmaR represses transcription of both the pig and car gene clusters in the absence of N-AHLs. Specifically, we show that SmaIR exerts its effect on car gene expression via transcriptional control of carR, encoding a pheromone-independent LuxR homologue. Transcriptional activation of the pig and car gene clusters also requires a functional Rap protein, but Rap dependency can be bypassed by secondary mutations. Transduction of these suppressor mutations into wild-type backgrounds confers a hyper-Pig phenotype. Multiple mutations cluster in a region upstream of the pigA gene, suggesting this region may represent a repressor target site. Two mutations mapped to genes encoding pstS and pstA homologues, which are parts of a high-affinity phosphate transport system (Pst) in Escherichia coli. Disruption of pstS mimicked phosphate limitation and caused concomitant hyper-production of Pig and Car, which was mediated, in part, through increased transcription of the smaI gene. The Pst and SmaIR systems define distinct, yet overlapping, regulatory circuits which form part of a complex regulatory network controlling the production of secondary metabolites in Serratia ATCC 39006.

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