sigmaS (RpoS) is the master regulator of the general stress response in Escherichia coli. Several stresses increase cellular sigmaS levels by inhibiting proteolysis of sigmaS, which under non-stress conditions is a highly unstable protein. For this ClpXP-dependent degradation, the response regulator RssB acts as a recognition factor, with RssB affinity for sigmaS being modulated by phosphorylation. Here, we demonstrate that RssB can also act like an anti-sigma factor for sigmaS in vivo, i.e. RssB can inhibit the expression of sigmaS-dependent genes in the presence of high sigmaS levels. This becomes apparent when (i) the cellular RssB/sigmaS ratio is at least somewhat elevated and (ii) proteolysis is reduced (for example in stationary phase) or eliminated (for example in a clpP mutant). Two modes of inhibition of sigmaS by RssB can be distinguished. The 'catalytic' mode is observed in stationary phase cells with a substoichiometric RssB/sigmaS ratio, requires ClpP and therefore probably corresponds to sequestering of sigmaS to Clp protease (even though sigmaS is not degraded). The 'stoichiometric' mode occurs in clpP mutant cells upon overproduction of RssB to levels that are equal to those of sigmaS, and therefore probably involves binary complex formation between RssB and sigmaS. We also show that, under standard laboratory conditions, the cellular level of RssB is more than 20-fold lower than that of sigmaS and is not significantly controlled by stresses that upregulate sigmaS. We therefore propose that antisigma factor activity of RssB may play a role under not yet identified growth conditions (which may result in RssB induction), or that RssB is a former antisigma factor that during evolution was recruited to serve as a recognition factor for proteolysis.