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Mol Microbiol. 2004 Aug;53(4):1267-77.

Haemophore-mediated signalling in Serratia marcescens: a new mode of regulation for an extra cytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factor involved in haem acquisition.

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Unité des Membranes Bactériennes Institut Pasteur, (CNRS URA 2172), 25 rue du Dr Roux, Paris CEDEX 15, France.


Bacterial extra cytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factors control a wide range of cell envelope activities including iron and haem uptake systems. Sigma activity is usually inhibited by membrane-bound antisigma. An extra cytoplasmic signal modulates sigma-antisigma interactions and thereby leads to the transcription of the target operon. Sigma and antisigma genes generally belong to one autoregulated operon. However, ECF sigma and antisigma genes involved in iron acquisition, also called iron starvation ECF, are non-autoregulated exceptions to this rule. We fully reconstituted the has signalling cascade of Serratia marcescens in Escherichia coli. Binding of the haem-loaded haemophore to the outer membrane receptor, HasR, inactivates the antisigma HasS, turning on HasI and thereby allowing has operon transcription. Deletion of the HasR N-terminal extension, present in all characterized outer membrane receptors endowed with signal transduction capacity, abolished the inducing activity but not the transport activity. Induction required the TonB-ExbB-ExbD complex. HasI, like the other iron starvation sigma, is iron repressed but not autoregulated. We found an entirely new regulation for the antisigma hasS gene, the transcription of which is HasI dependent. We suggest that the has system is both activated and repressed by the availability of external haem. When there is enough haem, the HasS antisigma activity is turned off and HasI induces the transcription of hasS. This leads to the storage of inactive HasS molecules which become active when HasR is not occupied by holo-haemophore ligand molecules: as soon as there is a haem shortage transcription is turned off. Positive autoregulation of ECF sigma and antisigma genes is usually considered as a mechanism for amplifying a perceived signal. However, our findings suggest, on the contrary, that antisigma regulation allows fine-tuning to the external signal. The biological significance of ECF sigma and antisigma autoregulation may need to be reconsidered.

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