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PLoS Genet. 2011 Sep;7(9):e1002220. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002220. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

A negative feedback loop that limits the ectopic activation of a cell type-specific sporulation sigma factor of Bacillus subtilis.

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Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Oeiras, Portugal.


Two highly similar RNA polymerase sigma subunits, σ(F) and σ(G), govern the early and late phases of forespore-specific gene expression during spore differentiation in Bacillus subtilis. σ(F) drives synthesis of σ(G) but the latter only becomes active once engulfment of the forespore by the mother cell is completed, its levels rising quickly due to a positive feedback loop. The mechanisms that prevent premature or ectopic activation of σ(G) while discriminating between σ(F) and σ(G) in the forespore are not fully comprehended. Here, we report that the substitution of an asparagine by a glutamic acid at position 45 of σ(G) (N45E) strongly reduced binding by a previously characterized anti-sigma factor, CsfB (also known as Gin), in vitro, and increased the activity of σ(G) in vivo. The N45E mutation caused the appearance of a sub-population of pre-divisional cells with strong activity of σ(G). CsfB is normally produced in the forespore, under σ(F) control, but sigGN45E mutant cells also expressed csfB and did so in a σ(G)-dependent manner, autonomously from σ(F). Thus, a negative feedback loop involving CsfB counteracts the positive feedback loop resulting from ectopic σ(G) activity. N45 is invariant in the homologous position of σ(G) orthologues, whereas its functional equivalent in σ(F) proteins, E39, is highly conserved. While CsfB does not bind to wild-type σ(F), a E39N substitution in σ(F) resulted in efficient binding of CsfB to σ(F). Moreover, under certain conditions, the E39N alteration strongly restrains the activity of σ(F) in vivo, in a csfB-dependent manner, and the efficiency of sporulation. Therefore, a single amino residue, N45/E39, is sufficient for the ability of CsfB to discriminate between the two forespore-specific sigma factors in B. subtilis.

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