The role of sigma factors in plastid transcription

Biochimie. Jun-Jul 2000;82(6-7):537-48. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9084(00)00611-8.


Expression of plastid genes is controlled at both transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels in response to developmental and environmental signals. In many cases this regulation is mediated by nuclear-encoded proteins acting in concert with the endogenous plastid gene expression machinery. Transcription in plastids is accomplished by two distinct RNA polymerase enzymes, one of which resembles eubacterial RNA polymerases in both subunit structure and promoter recognition properties. The holoenzyme contains a catalytic core composed of plastid-encoded subunits, assembled with a nuclear-encoded promoter-specificity factor, sigma. Based on examples of transcriptional regulation in bacteria, it is proposed that differential activation of sigma factors may provide the nucleus with a mechanism to control expression of groups of plastid genes. Hence, much effort has focused on identifying and characterizing sigma-like factors in plants. While fractionation studies had identified several candidate sigma factors in purified RNA polymerase preparations, it was only 4 years ago that the first sigma factor genes were cloned from two photosynthetic eukaryotes, both of which were red algae. More recently this achievement has extended to the identification of families of sigma-like factor genes from several species of vascular plants. Now, efforts in the field are directed at understanding the roles in plastid transcription of each member of the rapidly expanding plant sigma factor gene family. Recent results suggest that accumulation of individual sigma-like factors is controlled by light, by plastid type and/or by a particular stage of chloroplast development. These data mesh nicely with accumulating evidence that the core sigma-binding regions of plastid promoters mediate regulated transcription in response to light-regime and plastid type or developmental state. In this review I will outline progress made to date in identifying and characterizing the sigma-like factors of plants, and in dissecting their potential roles in chloroplast gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plastids / genetics*
  • Sigma Factor / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology*


  • Sigma Factor