Background: The response regulator DegU and its cognate histidine kinase DegS constitute a two-component system in the Gram-positive soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Unphosphorylated and phosphorylated forms of DegU are known to activate target gene transcription in B. subtilis. Although phosphorylated DegU (DegU-P) regulates more than one hundred and twenty genes, the targets of unphosphorylated DegU are unknown, except for comK.
Results: We found that the fla/che (flagella and chemotaxis) operon is positively regulated by unphosphorylated DegU. The effect was most prominent in a strain bearing the functional swrAA gene, a positive regulator of fla/che. Unphosphorylated DegU bound to two regions in the fla/che regulatory region containing an inverted repeat-like sequence that resembles the inverted repeat (IR) in the comK promoter. Mutational analysis revealed that positive regulation of fla/che by SwrAA requires DegU-binding. An analysis of the DegU-P-regulated gene sacB (levansucrase gene) by footprint and mutational analyses revealed that DegU-P bound to a direct repeat (DR) of the DegU-recognition motifs, which has been shown to be functional in vivo, while unphosphorylated DegU did not. These results strongly suggest that the arrangement of the DegU-binding motifs determines whether unphosphorylated DegU or DegU-P binds to the sacB promoter. The hypothesis was confirmed by observing degS-independent expression when the DR in the sacB-lacZ fusion was changed to an IR, suggesting that unphosphorylated DegU regulates the sacB promoter through the newly created IR. This was confirmed by binding of unphosphorylated DegU to the IR in the sacB promoter.
Conclusion: This study demonstrated that DegU positively regulates flgB and sacB through its binding to the promoter regions. We demonstrated that DegU-P prefers binding to DR but not to IR in the sacB promoter.