Evolution of a Bacterial Regulon Controlling Virulence and Mg(2+) Homeostasis

PLoS Genet. 2009 Mar;5(3):e1000428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000428. Epub 2009 Mar 20.


Related organisms typically rely on orthologous regulatory proteins to respond to a given signal. However, the extent to which (or even if) the targets of shared regulatory proteins are maintained across species has remained largely unknown. This question is of particular significance in bacteria due to the widespread effects of horizontal gene transfer. Here, we address this question by investigating the regulons controlled by the DNA-binding PhoP protein, which governs virulence and Mg(2+) homeostasis in several bacterial species. We establish that the ancestral PhoP protein directs largely different gene sets in ten analyzed species of the family Enterobacteriaceae, reflecting both regulation of species-specific targets and transcriptional rewiring of shared genes. The two targets directly activated by PhoP in all ten species (the most distant of which diverged >200 million years ago), and coding for the most conserved proteins are the phoPQ operon itself and the lipoprotein-encoding slyB gene, which decreases PhoP protein activity. The Mg(2+)-responsive PhoP protein dictates expression of Mg(2+) transporters and of enzymes that modify Mg(2+)-binding sites in the cell envelope in most analyzed species. In contrast to the core PhoP regulon, which determines the amount of active PhoP and copes with the low Mg(2+) stress, the variable members of the regulon contribute species-specific traits, a property shared with regulons controlled by dissimilar regulatory proteins and responding to different signals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Enterobacteriaceae / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Magnesium / metabolism*
  • Regulon / genetics*
  • Regulon / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Virulence / genetics*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • PhoP protein, Bacteria
  • Magnesium