Progression through the Caulobacter cell cycle is driven by the master regulator CtrA, an essential two-component signaling protein that regulates the expression of nearly 100 genes. CtrA is abundant throughout the cell cycle except immediately prior to DNA replication. However, the expression of CtrA-activated genes is generally restricted to S phase. We identify the conserved protein SciP (small CtrA inhibitory protein) and show that it accumulates during G1, where it inhibits CtrA from activating target genes. The depletion of SciP from G1 cells leads to the inappropriate induction of CtrA-activated genes and, consequently, a disruption of the cell cycle. Conversely, the ectopic synthesis of SciP is sufficient to inhibit CtrA-dependent transcription, also disrupting the cell cycle. SciP binds directly to CtrA without affecting stability or phosphorylation; instead, SciP likely prevents CtrA from recruiting RNA polymerase. CtrA is thus tightly regulated by a protein-protein interaction which is critical to cell-cycle progression.
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