ABSTRACT: The sigma subunit of procaryotic RNA polymerases is responsible for specific promoter recognition and transcription initiation. In addition to the major sigma factor, sigma 70, in Escherichia coli, which directs most of the transcription in the cell, bacteria possess multiple, alternative sigma factors that direct RNA polymerase to distinct sets of promoters in response to environmental signals. By activating an alternative sigma factor, gene expression can be rapidly reprogrammed to meet the needs of the cell as the environment changes. Sigma factors are subject to multiple levels of regulation that control their levels and activities. The alternative sigma factor sigmaE in Escherichia coli is induced in response to extracytoplasmic stress. Here we demonstrate that sigmaE can also respond to signals other than extracytoplasmic stress. sigmaE activity increases in a growth phase-dependent manner as a culture enters stationary phase. The signaling pathway that activates sigmaE during entry into stationary phase is dependent upon the alarmone guanosine 3',5'-bispyrophosphate (ppGpp) and is distinct from the pathway that signals extracytoplasmic stress. ppGpp is the first cytoplasmic factor shown to control sigmaE activity, demonstrating that sigmaE can respond to internal signals as well as signals originating in the cell envelope. ppGpp is a general signal of starvation stress and is also required for activation of the sigmaS and sigma 54 alternative sigma factors upon entry into stationary phase, suggesting that this is a key mechanism by which alternative sigma factors can be activated in concert to provide a coordinated response to nutritional stress.
Journal of Bacteriology 08/2006; 188(13):4627-34. · 3.83 Impact Factor