A core component of the α-proteobacterial general stress response (GSR) is the extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factor EcfG, exclusively present in this taxonomic class. Half of the completed α-proteobacterial genome sequences contain two or more copies of genes encoding σ(EcfG) -like sigma factors, with the primary copy typically located adjacent to genes coding for a cognate anti-sigma factor (NepR) and two-component response regulator (PhyR). So far, the widespread occurrence of additional, non-canonical σ(EcfG) copies has not satisfactorily been explained. This study explores the hierarchical relation between Rhizobium etli σ(EcfG1) and σ(EcfG2) , canonical and non-canonical σ(EcfG) proteins, respectively. Contrary to reports in other species, we find that σ(EcfG1) and σ(EcfG2) act in parallel, as nodes of a complex regulatory network, rather than in series, as elements of a linear regulatory cascade. We demonstrate that both sigma factors control unique yet also shared target genes, corroborating phenotypic evidence. σ(EcfG1) drives expression of rpoH2, explaining the increased heat sensitivity of an ecfG1 mutant, while katG is under control of σ(EcfG2) , accounting for reduced oxidative stress resistance of an ecfG2 mutant. We also identify non-coding RNA genes as novel σ(EcfG) targets. We propose a modified model for GSR regulation in R. etli, in which σ(EcfG1) and σ(EcfG2) function largely independently. Based on a phylogenetic analysis and considering the prevalence of α-proteobacterial genomes with multiple σ(EcfG) copies, this model may also be applicable to numerous other species.
Keywords: ECF sigma factor; EcfG; PhyR; TcrX; general stress response; α-proteobacteria.
© 2013 The Authors. MicrobiologyOpen published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.