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Mol Microbiol. 2011 Mar;79(5):1136-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07520.x. Epub 2011 Jan 12.

The SoxRS response of Escherichia coli is directly activated by redox-cycling drugs rather than by superoxide.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


When Escherichia coli is exposed to redox-cycling drugs, its SoxR transcription factor is activated by oxidation of its [2Fe-2S] cluster. In aerobic cells these drugs generate superoxide, and because superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a member of the SoxRS regulon, superoxide was initially thought to be the activator of SoxR. Its many-gene regulon was therefore believed to comprise a defence against superoxide stress. However, we found that abundant superoxide did not effectively activate SoxR in an SOD⁻ mutant, that overproduced SOD could not suppress activation by redox-cycling drugs, and that redox-cycling drugs were able to activate SoxR in anaerobic cells as long as alternative respiratory acceptors were provided. Thus superoxide is not the signal that SoxR senses. Indeed, redox-cycling drugs directly oxidized the cluster of purified SoxR in vitro, while superoxide did not. Redox-cycling drugs are excreted by both bacteria and plants. Their toxicity does not require superoxide, as they poisoned E. coli under anaerobic conditions, in part by oxidizing dehydratase iron-sulfur clusters. Under these conditions SoxRS induction was protective. Thus it is physiologically appropriate that the SoxR protein directly senses redox-cycling drugs rather than superoxide.

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