Disruption of the Myxococcus xanthus socE gene bypasses the requirement for the cell contact-dependent C-signalling system mediated by CsgA and restores fruiting body morphogenesis and spore differentiation. The socE gene has been identified by genetic complementation, cloned and sequenced. SocE is highly basic, unique and is predicted to be a soluble protein with a molecular size of 53. 6 kDa. The socE and csgA genes have opposite transcription patterns during the M. xanthus life cycle. socE expression is high in growing cells and declines during the early stages of development. Expression of csgA is low in vegetative cells and increases during development. socE transcription is negatively regulated by the stringent response, the major amino acid-sensing pathway in M. xanthus. A relA null mutation, which eliminates the stringent response, prevents the decline in socE expression normally observed at the onset of development. CsgA is positively regulated by the stringent response and is negatively regulated by socE. A relA mutation virtually eliminates developmental csgA expression. Expression of socE in Escherichia coli leads to a rapid loss of viability in relA- cells during stationary phase, suggesting a relationship with the stringent response.