Stress-induced mutagenesis in bacteria

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. Sep-Oct 2007;42(5):373-97. doi: 10.1080/10409230701648494.


Bacteria spend their lives buffeted by changing environmental conditions. To adapt to and survive these stresses, bacteria have global response systems that result in sweeping changes in gene expression and cellular metabolism. These responses are controlled by master regulators, which include: alternative sigma factors, such as RpoS and RpoH; small molecule effectors, such as ppGpp; gene repressors such as LexA; and, inorganic molecules, such as polyphosphate. The response pathways extensively overlap and are induced to various extents by the same environmental stresses. These stresses include nutritional deprivation, DNA damage, temperature shift, and exposure to antibiotics. All of these global stress responses include functions that can increase genetic variability. In particular, up-regulation and activation of error-prone DNA polymerases, down-regulation of error-correcting enzymes, and movement of mobile genetic elements are common features of several stress responses. The result is that under a variety of stressful conditions, bacteria are induced for genetic change. This transient mutator state may be important for adaptive evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Heat-Shock Response
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutagenesis / physiology*
  • Mutation
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism
  • SOS Response, Genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Polyphosphates