The evolution of the phage shock protein response system: interplay between protein function, genomic organization, and system function

Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Mar;28(3):1141-55. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq301. Epub 2010 Nov 8.


Sensing the environment and responding appropriately to it are key capabilities for the survival of an organism. All extant organisms must have evolved suitable sensors, signaling systems, and response mechanisms allowing them to survive under the conditions they are likely to encounter. Here, we investigate in detail the evolutionary history of one such system: The phage shock protein (Psp) stress response system is an important part of the stress response machinery in many bacteria, including Escherichia coli K12. Here, we use a systematic analysis of the genes that make up and regulate the Psp system in E. coli in order to elucidate the evolutionary history of the system. We compare gene sharing, sequence evolution, and conservation of protein-coding as well as noncoding DNA sequences and link these to comparative analyses of genome/operon organization across 698 bacterial genomes. Finally, we evaluate experimentally the biological advantage/disadvantage of a simplified version of the Psp system under different oxygen-related environments. Our results suggest that the Psp system evolved around a core response mechanism by gradually co-opting genes into the system to provide more nuanced sensory, signaling, and effector functionalities. We find that recruitment of new genes into the response machinery is closely linked to incorporation of these genes into a psp operon as is seen in E. coli, which contains the bulk of genes involved in the response. The organization of this operon allows for surprising levels of additional transcriptional control and flexibility. The results discussed here suggest that the components of such signaling systems will only be evolutionarily conserved if the overall functionality of the system can be maintained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Escherichia coli K12 / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli K12 / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / classification
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Genomic Instability / physiology
  • Genomics
  • Operon
  • Phylogeny
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology
  • Trans-Activators / classification
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • PspF protein, E coli
  • Trans-Activators