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J Bacteriol. 2015 Oct 19;198(1):187-200. doi: 10.1128/JB.00658-15. Print 2016 Jan 1.

Identification of the PhoB Regulon and Role of PhoU in the Phosphate Starvation Response of Caulobacter crescentus.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


An ability to sense and respond to changes in extracellular phosphate is critical for the survival of most bacteria. For Caulobacter crescentus, which typically lives in phosphate-limited environments, this process is especially crucial. Like many bacteria, Caulobacter responds to phosphate limitation through a conserved two-component signaling pathway called PhoR-PhoB, but the direct regulon of PhoB in this organism is unknown. Here we used chromatin immunoprecipitation-DNA sequencing (ChIP-Seq) to map the global binding patterns of the phosphate-responsive transcriptional regulator PhoB under phosphate-limited and -replete conditions. Combined with genome-wide expression profiling, our work demonstrates that PhoB is induced to regulate nearly 50 genes under phosphate-starved conditions. The PhoB regulon is comprised primarily of genes known or predicted to help Caulobacter scavenge for and import inorganic phosphate, including 15 different membrane transporters. We also investigated the regulatory role of PhoU, a widely conserved protein proposed to coordinate phosphate import with expression of the PhoB regulon by directly modulating the histidine kinase PhoR. However, our studies show that it likely does not play such a role in Caulobacter, as PhoU depletion has no significant effect on PhoB-dependent gene expression. Instead, cells lacking PhoU exhibit striking accumulation of large polyphosphate granules, suggesting that PhoU participates in controlling intracellular phosphate metabolism.


The transcription factor PhoB is widely conserved throughout the bacterial kingdom, where it helps organisms respond to phosphate limitation by driving the expression of a battery of genes. Most of what is known about PhoB and its target genes is derived from studies of Escherichia coli. Our work documents the PhoB regulon in Caulobacter crescentus, and comparison to the regulon in E. coli reveals significant differences, highlighting the evolutionary plasticity of transcriptional responses driven by highly conserved transcription factors. We also demonstrated that the conserved protein PhoU, which is implicated in bacterial persistence, does not regulate PhoB activity, as previously suggested. Instead, our results favor a model in which PhoU affects intracellular phosphate accumulation, possibly through the high-affinity phosphate transporter.

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