Anti-silencing: overcoming H-NS-mediated repression of transcription in Gram-negative enteric bacteria

Microbiology (Reading). 2008 Sep;154(Pt 9):2533-2545. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.2008/020693-0.


The H-NS nucleoid-associated DNA-binding protein is an important global repressor of transcription in Gram-negative bacteria. Recently, H-NS has been implicated in the process of xenogeneic silencing, where it represses the transcription of foreign genes acquired by horizontal transfer. This raises interesting questions about the integration of the horizontally acquired genes into the existing gene regulatory networks of the microbe. In particular, how do bacteria derepress silenced genes in order to benefit from their expression without compromising competitive fitness through doing so inappropriately? This article reviews current knowledge about the derepression of genes that are transcriptionally silenced by H-NS. It describes a variety of anti-silencing mechanisms involving (i) protein-independent processes that operate at the level of local DNA structure, (ii) DNA-binding proteins such as Ler, LeuO, RovA, SlyA, VirB, and proteins related to AraC, and (iii) modulatory mechanisms in which H-NS forms heteromeric protein-protein complexes with full-length or partial paralogues such as StpA, Sfh, Hha, YdgT, YmoA or H-NST. The picture that emerges is one of apparently ad hoc solutions to the problem of H-NS-mediated silencing, suggesting that microbes are capable of evolving anti-silencing methods based on the redeployment of existing regulatory proteins rather than employing dedicated, bespoke antagonists. There is also evidence that in a number of cases more sophisticated regulatory processes have been superimposed on these rather simple anti-silencing mechanisms, broadening the range of environmental signals to which H-NS-repressed genes respond.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • H-NS protein, bacteria