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PLoS Genet. 2013 Oct;9(10):e1003892. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003892. Epub 2013 Oct 31.

Mobility of the native Bacillus subtilis conjugative plasmid pLS20 is regulated by intercellular signaling.

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Centro de Biología Molecular "Severo Ochoa" (CSIC-UAM), Instituto de Biología Molecular "Eladio Viñuela" (CSIC), Universidad Autónoma, Canto Blanco, Madrid, Spain.


Horizontal gene transfer mediated by plasmid conjugation plays a significant role in the evolution of bacterial species, as well as in the dissemination of antibiotic resistance and pathogenicity determinants. Characterization of their regulation is important for gaining insights into these features. Relatively little is known about how conjugation of Gram-positive plasmids is regulated. We have characterized conjugation of the native Bacillus subtilis plasmid pLS20. Contrary to the enterococcal plasmids, conjugation of pLS20 is not activated by recipient-produced pheromones but by pLS20-encoded proteins that regulate expression of the conjugation genes. We show that conjugation is kept in the default "OFF" state and identified the master repressor responsible for this. Activation of the conjugation genes requires relief of repression, which is mediated by an anti-repressor that belongs to the Rap family of proteins. Using both RNA sequencing methodology and genetic approaches, we have determined the regulatory effects of the repressor and anti-repressor on expression of the pLS20 genes. We also show that the activity of the anti-repressor is in turn regulated by an intercellular signaling peptide. Ultimately, this peptide dictates the timing of conjugation. The implications of this regulatory mechanism and comparison with other mobile systems are discussed.

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