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J Mol Biol. 1990 Apr 20;212(4):645-60.

Cascade regulation of spore coat gene expression in Bacillus subtilis.

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Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.


Endospores of the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis are encased in a tough protein shell known as the coat. The coat is composed of a dozen or more different structural proteins. We report the identification of and studies on the regulation of promoters governing the expression of coat protein (cot) genes designated B to E encoding polypeptides of 59, 12, 11 and 24 kDa, respectively. We show that transcription of genes B, C and D is governed by single promoters and that transcription of gene E is governed by tandem promoters designated P1 and P2. In extension of recent work on the transcription of cot gene A and the mother-cell regulatory genes gerE, sigK and spoIIID, we show that genes involved in coat formation are turned on in a regulatory cascade of at least four co-ordinately controlled gene sets. The cascade consists of: cotE as transcribed from its P1 promoter and spoIIID, which are turned on during hours three to four of sporulation; cotE as transcribed from its P2 promoter and sigK, which are turned on during hour five by the appearance of the product (a small DNA-binding protein) of spoIIID; cotA, cotD and gerE, which are turned on during hours five to six by the appearance of the product (sigma factor sigma K) of sigK; and cotB and cotC, which are turned on during hour seven by the appearance of the product (an inferred DNA-binding protein) of gerE. The cascade is hierarchical in that the first three gene sets each contain the regulatory gene that turns on the expression of the next gene set in the pathway. We also show that the level of expression of a member (cotC) of the terminal class of gene expression is strongly influenced by medium and that this effect directly or indirectly depends on the product of sporulation gene spoIV A.

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