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Mol Microbiol. 2016 Feb;99(4):808-19. doi: 10.1111/mmi.13268. Epub 2015 Dec 9.

The heterocyst differentiation transcriptional regulator HetR of the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena forms tetramers and can be regulated by phosphorylation.

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Instituto de Bioquímica Vegetal y Fotosíntesis, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Universidad de Sevilla, Américo Vespucio 49, E-41092, Seville, Spain.


Many filamentous cyanobacteria respond to the external cue of nitrogen scarcity by the differentiation of heterocysts, cells specialized in the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen in oxic environments. Heterocysts follow a spatial pattern along the filament of two heterocysts separated by ca. 10-15 vegetative cells performing oxygenic photosynthesis. HetR is a transcriptional regulator that directs heterocyst differentiation. In the model strain Anabaena sp. PCC 7120, the HetR protein was observed in various oligomeric forms in vivo, including a tetramer that peaked with maximal hetR expression during differentiation. Tetramers were not detected in a hetR point mutant incapable of differentiation, but were conspicuous in an over-differentiating strain lacking the PatS inhibitor. In differentiated filaments the HetR tetramer was restricted to heterocysts, being undetectable in vegetative cells. HetR co-purified with RNA polymerase from Anabaena mainly as a tetramer. In vitro, purified recombinant HetR was distributed between monomers, dimers, trimers and tetramers, and it was phosphorylated when incubated with (γ-(32)P)ATP. Phosphorylation and PatS hampered the accumulation of HetR tetramers and impaired HetR binding to DNA. In summary, tetrameric HetR appears to represent a functionally relevant form of HetR, whose abundance in the Anabaena filament could be negatively regulated by phosphorylation and by PatS.

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