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Mol Microbiol. 1997 Apr;24(1):7-17.

H-NS: a modulator of environmentally regulated gene expression.

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Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences, Roskilde University, Denmark.


H-NS is a small chromatin-associated protein found in enterobacteria. H-NS has affinity for all types of nucleic acids but binds preferentially to intrinsically curved DNA. The major role of H-NS is to modulate the expression of a large number of genes, mostly by negatively affecting transcription. Many of the H-NS-modulated genes are regulated by environmental signals, and expression of most of these genes is positively regulated by specific transcription factors. Therefore one of the purposes of H-NS could be to repress expression of some genes under conditions characteristic of a non-intestinal environment, but allow expression of specific genes in response to certain stimuli in the intestinal environment. The hns gene is autoregulated. In vivo the H-NS to DNA ratio is fairly constant except during cold shock, when it increases three- to fourfold. In this review we propose that only the preferential binding to intrinsically curved DNA plays a role under normal growth conditions, and we discuss the different mechanisms by which H-NS might affect gene expression and how H-NS could be involved in the response to different stress situations. Finally, we summarize the evolutionary and functional relationship between H-NS and the homologous StpA.

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