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Mol Microbiol. 2005 May;56(3):578-89.

Differential gene expression in genetically identical sister cells: the initiation of sporulation in Bacillus subtilis.

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Microbiology Unit, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX13QU, UK.


Early in sporulation, the cell divides asymmetrically to give two sister compartments, a smaller prespore and a larger mother cell. Differential gene expression in these compartments depends on the regulation of the first sporulation-specific sigma factor, sigma(F), which is activated only in the prespore. Regulation relies on the interactions of four proteins -sigma(F), its antisigma SpoIIAB (which also has protein kinase activity), the anti-antisigma SpoIIAA and the protein phosphatase SpoIIE. Before asymmetric division, and in the mother cell after division, sigma(F) is held in an inactive complex with SpoIIAB and ATP; SpoIIAA is in its phosphorylated form. To disrupt the complex so as to liberate sigma(F) in the prespore, dephosphorylated SpoIIAA is needed, and this is made available by SpoIIE. Thereafter, SpoIIAB and SpoIIE are active simultaneously in the prespore, cycling SpoIIAA through phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms. This cycle detains SpoIIAB in a state in which it cannot inhibit sigma(F). Results from biophysical techniques, mathematical simulations and enzyme kinetics have now helped to elucidate the dynamics of the protein-protein interactions involved. An understanding of these dynamics largely accounts for the regulation of sigma(F). We show that the system is tuned to be highly efficient in its use of components and extremely economical in conserving ATP.

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