How is osmotic regulation of transcription of the Escherichia coli proU operon achieved?
- Cite this article as:
- Gowrishankar, J. & Manna, D. Genetica (1996) 97: 363. doi:10.1007/BF00055322
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The proU operon in enterobacteria encodes a binding-protein-dependent transporter for the active uptake of glycine betaine and L-proline, and serves an adaptive role during growth of cells in hyperosmolar environments. Transcription of proU is induced 400-fold under these conditions, but the underlying signal transduction mechanisms are incompletely understood. Increased DNA supercoiling and activation by potassium glutamate have each been proposed in alternative models as mediators of proU osmoresponsivity. We review here the available experimental data on proU regulation, and in particular the roles for DNA supercoiling, potassium glutamate, histone-like proteins of the bacterial nucleoid, and alternative sigma factors of RNA polymerase in such regulation. We also propose a new unifying model, in which the pronounced osmotic regulation of proU expression is achieved through the additive effects of at least three separate mechanisms, each comprised of a cis element [two promoters P1 and P2, and negative-regulatory-element (NRE) downstream of both promoters] and distinct trans-acting factors that interact with it: stationary-phase sigma factor RpoS with P1, nucleoid proteins HU and IHF with P2, and nucleoid protein H-NS with the NRE. In this model, potassium glutamate may activate proU expression through each of the three mechanisms whereas DNA supercoiling has a very limited role, if any, in the osmotic induction of proU transcription. We also suggest that proU may be a virulence gene in the pathogenic enterobacteria.