The sigmaS subunit of RNA polymerase as a signal integrator and network master regulator in the general stress response in Escherichia coli

Sci Prog. 2007;90(Pt 2-3):103-27. doi: 10.3184/003685007X215922.


The sigmaS (RpoS) subunit of RNA polymerase in Escherichia coli is a key master regulator which allows this bacterial model organism and important pathogen to adapt to and survive environmentally rough times. While hardly present in rapidly growing cells, sigmaS strongly accumulates in response to many different stress conditions, partly replaces the vegetative sigma subunit in RNA polymerase and thereby reprograms this enzyme to transcribe sigmaS-dependent genes (up to 10% of the E. coli genes). In this review, we summarize the extremely complex regulation of sigmaS itself and multiple signal input at the level of this master regulator, we describe the way in which sigmaS specifically recognizes "stress" promoters despite their similarity to vegetative promoters, and, while being far from comprehensive, we give a short overview of the far-reaching physiological impact of sigmaS. With sigmaS being a central and multiple signal integrator and master regulator of hundreds of genes organized in regulatory cascades and sub-networks or regulatory modules, this system also represents a key model system for analyzing complex cellular information processing and a starting point for understanding the complete regulatory network of an entire cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / biosynthesis
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli* / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / physiology
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Heat-Shock Response* / genetics
  • Heat-Shock Response* / physiology
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Sigma Factor / biosynthesis
  • Sigma Factor / genetics
  • Sigma Factor / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Sigma Factor
  • sigma factor KatF protein, Bacteria
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases