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J Bacteriol. 1997 Nov;179(21):6778-87.

Regulation of Bacillus subtilis sigmaH (spo0H) and AbrB in response to changes in external pH.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Louisiana State University Medical Center, Shreveport 71130-3932, USA.


The RNA polymerase sigma subunit, sigmaH, of Bacillus subtilis is required for the transcription of genes that are induced in late-growth cultures at high cell density, including genes that function in sporulation. The expression of sigmaH-controlled genes is repressed when nutrient broth sporulation medium (Difco sporulation medium [DSM]) is supplemented with high concentrations of glucose and glutamine (DSM-GG), preferred carbon and nitrogen sources of B. subtilis. Under these conditions, the pH of the DSM-GG medium decreases to approximately 5. Raising the pH by the addition of morpholinepropanesulfonic acid (MOPS) or Tris-HCl (pH 7.5) results in a dramatic increase in the expression of lacZ fusions to sigmaH-dependent promoters. Correspondingly, the level of sigmaH protein was higher in cells of late-growth DSM-GG cultures treated with a pH stabilizer. When sigmaH-dependent gene expression was examined in cells bearing a mutation in abrB, encoding the transition state regulator that negatively controls genes transcribed by the sigmaH form of RNA polymerase, derepression was observed as well as an increase in medium pH. Reducing the pH with acetic acid resulted in repression, suggesting that AbrB was not functioning directly in pH-dependent repression but was required to maintain the low medium pH in DSM-GG. AbrB protein levels were high in late-growth, DSM-GG cultures but significantly lower when the pH was raised by Tris-HCl addition. An active tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle was required to obtain maximum derepression of sigmaH-dependent transcription, and transcription of the TCA cycle enzyme gene citB was repressed in DSM-GG but derepressed when the pH was artificially raised. The negative effect of low pH on sigmaH-dependent lacZ expression was also observed in unbuffered minimal medium and appeared to be exerted posttranslationally with respect to spo0H expression. However, the addition of amino acids to the medium caused pH-independent repression of both sigmaH-dependent transcription and spo0H-lacZ expression. These results suggest that spo0H transcription or translation is repressed by a mechanism responding to the availability of amino acids whereas spo0H is posttranslationally regulated in response to external pH.

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