The Bacillus subtilis extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factor sigma(W) controls a large regulon that is strongly induced by alkali shock. To define the physiological role of sigma(W) we have sought to identify the complete set of genes under sigma(W) control. Previously, we described a promoter consensus search procedure to identify sigma(W) controlled genes. Herein, we introduce a novel method to identify additional target promoters: run-off transcription followed by macroarray analysis (ROMA). We compare the resulting list of targets with those identified in conventional transcriptional profiling studies and using the consensus search approach. While transcriptional profiling identifies genes that are strongly dependent on sigma(W) for in vivo expression, some sigma(W)-dependent promoters are not detected due to the masking effects of other promoter elements, overlapping recognition with other ECF sigma factors, or both. Taken together, the consensus search, ROMA, and transcriptional profiling approaches establish a minimum of 30 promoter sites (controlling approximately 60 genes) as direct targets for activation by sigma(W). Significantly, no single approach identifies more than approximately 80% of the regulon so defined. We therefore suggest that a combination of two or more complementary approaches be employed in studies seeking to achieve maximal coverage when defining bacterial regulons. Our results indicate that sigma(W) controls genes that protect the cell against agents that impair cell wall biosynthesis but fail to reveal any connection to operons likely to function in adaptation to alkaline growth conditions. This is consistent with the observation that a sigW mutant is unaffected in its ability to survive alkali shock. We conclude that in B. subtilis sudden imposition of alkali stress activates the sigma(W) stress response, perhaps by impairing the ability of the cell wall biosynthetic machinery to function.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.