WhiB7, an Fe-S-dependent transcription factor that activates species-specific repertoires of drug resistance determinants in actinobacteria

J Biol Chem. 2013 Nov 29;288(48):34514-28. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.516385. Epub 2013 Oct 14.


WhiB-like (Wbl) proteins are well known for their diverse roles in actinobacterial morphogenesis, cell division, virulence, primary and secondary metabolism, and intrinsic antibiotic resistance. Gene disruption experiments showed that three different Actinobacteria (Mycobacterium smegmatis, Streptomyces lividans, and Rhodococcus jostii) each exhibited a different whiB7-dependent resistance profile. Heterologous expression of whiB7 genes showed these resistance profiles reflected the host's repertoire of endogenous whiB7-dependent genes. Transcriptional activation of two resistance genes in the whiB7 regulon, tap (a multidrug transporter) and erm(37) (a ribosomal methyltransferase), required interaction of WhiB7 with their promoters. Furthermore, heterologous expression of tap genes isolated from Mycobacterium species demonstrated that divergencies in drug specificity of homologous structural proteins contribute to the variation of WhiB7-dependent drug resistance. WhiB7 has a specific tryptophan/glycine-rich region and four conserved cysteine residues; it also has a peptide sequence (AT-hook) at its C terminus that binds AT-rich DNA sequence motifs upstream of the promoters it activates. Targeted mutagenesis showed that these motifs were required to provide antibiotic resistance in vivo. Anaerobically purified WhiB7 from S. lividans was dimeric and contained 2.1 ± 0.3 and 2.2 ± 0.3 mol of iron and sulfur, respectively, per protomer (consistent with the presence of a 2Fe-2S cluster). However, the properties of the dimer's absorption spectrum were most consistent with the presence of an oxygen-labile 4Fe-4S cluster, suggesting 50% occupancy. These data provide the first insights into WhiB7 iron-sulfur clusters as they exist in vivo, a major unresolved issue in studies of Wbl proteins.

Keywords: AT-hook; Actinobacteria; Antibiotic Resistance; Gene Regulation; Iron-Sulfur Cluster; Iron-Sulfur Protein; Regulation; Transcription.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / genetics*
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / metabolism
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Mutagenesis
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / metabolism*
  • Rhodococcus / genetics
  • Rhodococcus / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity
  • Streptomyces lividans / genetics
  • Streptomyces lividans / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / isolation & purification
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Methyltransferases