Trigger enzymes: bifunctional proteins active in metabolism and in controlling gene expression

Mol Microbiol. 2008 Feb;67(4):692-702. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2007.06071.x. Epub 2007 Dec 11.


All regulatory processes require components that sense the environmental or metabolic conditions of the cell, and sophisticated sensory proteins have been studied in great detail. During the last few years, it turned out that enzymes can control gene expression in response to the availability of their substrates. Here, we review four different mechanisms by which these enzymes interfere with regulation in bacteria. First, some enzymes have acquired a DNA-binding domain and act as direct transcription repressors by binding DNA in the absence of their substrates. A second class is represented by aconitase, which can bind iron responsive elements in the absence of iron to control the expression of genes involved in iron homoeostasis. The third class of these enzymes is sugar permeases of the phosphotransferase system that control the activity of transcription regulators by phosphorylating them in the absence of the specific substrate. Finally, a fourth class of regulatory enzymes controls the activity of transcription factors by inhibitory protein-protein interactions. We suggest that the enzymes that are active in the control of gene expression should be designated as trigger enzymes. An analysis of the occurrence of trigger enzymes suggests that the duplication and subsequent functional specialization is a major pattern in their evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / enzymology*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Enzymes / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Phosphorylation
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Enzymes
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors