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Mol Microbiol. 2012 Feb;83(4):682-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07949.x. Epub 2012 Jan 4.

The RGSGR amino acid motif of the intercellular signalling protein, HetN, is required for patterning of heterocysts in Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120.

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University of Hawaii, Department of Microbiology, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA.


Nitrogen-fixing heterocysts are arranged in a periodic pattern on filaments of the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120 under conditions of limiting combined nitrogen. Patterning requires two inhibitors of heterocyst differentiation, PatS and HetN, which work at different stages of differentiation by laterally suppressing levels of an activator of differentiation, HetR, in cells adjacent to source cells. Here we show that the RGSGR sequence in the 287-amino-acid HetN protein, which is shared by PatS, is critical for patterning. Conservative substitutions in any of the five amino acids lowered the extent to which HetN inhibited differentiation when overproduced and altered the pattern of heterocysts in filaments with an otherwise wild-type genetic background. Conversely, substitution of amino acids comprising the putative catalytic triad of this predicted reductase had no effect on inhibition or patterning. Deletion of putative domains of HetN suggested that the RGSGR motif is the primary component of HetN required for both its inhibitory and patterning activity, and that localization to the cell envelope is not required for patterning of heterocysts. The intercellular signalling proteins PatS and HetN use the same amino acid motif to regulate different stages of heterocyst patterning.

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