Adjustment of gene expression during acclimation to stress conditions, such as bright light, in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 depends on four group 2 σ factors (SigB, SigC, SigD, SigE). A ΔsigCDE strain containing the stress-responsive SigB as the only functional group 2 σ factor appears twice as resistant to photoinhibition of photosystem II (PSII) as the control strain. Microarray analyses of the ΔsigCDE strain indicated that 77 genes in standard conditions and 79 genes in high light were differently expressed compared with the control strain. Analysis of possible photoprotective mechanisms revealed that high carotenoid content and up-regulation of the photoprotective flavodiiron operon flv4-sll0218-flv2 protected PSII in ΔsigCDE, while up-regulation of pgr5-like, hlipB or isiA genes in the mutant strain did not offer particular protection against photoinhibition. Photoinhibition resistance was lost if ΔsigCDE was grown in high CO2, where carotenoid and Flv4, Sll0218, and Flv2 contents were low. Additionally, photoinhibition resistance of the ΔrpoZ strain (lacking the omega subunit of RNA polymerase), with high carotenoid but low Flv4-Sll0218-Flv2 content, supported the importance of carotenoids in PSII protection. Carotenoids likely protect mainly by quenching of singlet oxygen, but efficient nonphotochemical quenching in ΔsigCDE might offer some additional protection. Comparison of photoinhibition kinetics in control, ΔsigCDE, and ΔrpoZ strains showed that protection by the flavodiiron operon was most efficient during the first minutes of high-light illumination.
Keywords: Cyanobacteria; Gene regulation; Photoinhibition; Photoprotection; Sigma factor; Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803.