Mechanism of regulation of transcription initiation by ppGpp. I. Effects of ppGpp on transcription initiation in vivo and in vitro

J Mol Biol. 2001 Jan 26;305(4):673-88. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.2000.4327.


To determine the role of ppGpp in both negative and positive regulation of transcription initiation during exponential growth in Escherichia coli, we examined transcription in vivo and in vitro from the growth-rate-dependent rRNA promoter rrnB P1 and from the inversely growth-rate-dependent amino acid biosynthesis/transport promoters PargI, PhisG, PlysC, PpheA, PthrABC, and PlivJ. rrnB P1 promoter activity was slightly higher at all growth-rates in strains unable to synthesize ppGpp (deltarelAdeltaspoT) than in wild-type strains. Consistent with this observation and with the large decrease in rRNA transcription during the stringent response (when ppGpp levels are much higher), ppGpp inhibited transcription from rrnB P1 in vitro. In contrast, amino acid promoter activity was considerably lower in deltarelAdeltaspoT strains than in wild-type strains, but ppGpp had no effect on amino acid promoter activity in vitro. Detailed kinetic analysis in vitro indicated that open complexes at amino acid promoters formed much more slowly and were much longer-lived than rrnB P1 open complexes. ppGpp did not increase the rates of association with, or escape from, amino acid promoters in vitro, consistent with its failure to stimulate transcription directly. In contrast, ppGpp decreased the half-lives of open complexes at all promoters, whether the half-life was seconds (rrnB P1) or hours (amino acid promoters). The results described here and in the accompanying paper indicate that ppGpp directly inhibits transcription, but only from promoters like rrnB P1 that make short-lived open complexes. The results indicate that stimulation of amino acid promoters occurs indirectly. The accompanying paper evaluates potential models for positive control of amino acid promoters by ppGpp that might explain the requirement of ppGpp for amino acid prototrophy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / biosynthesis
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Consensus Sequence
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial* / drug effects
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • Genes, rRNA / genetics
  • Guanosine Tetraphosphate / metabolism*
  • Guanosine Tetraphosphate / pharmacology
  • Half-Life
  • Kinetics
  • Lac Operon / genetics
  • Nucleic Acid Denaturation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Protein Binding
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*
  • rRNA Operon / genetics


  • Amino Acids
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Guanosine Tetraphosphate
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases