Background: At the beginning of the transcription process, the RNA polymerase (RNAP) core enzyme requires a σ-factor to recognize the genomic location at which the process initiates. Although the crucial role of σ-factors has long been appreciated and characterized for many individual promoters, we do not yet have a genome-scale assessment of their function.
Results: Using multiple genome-scale measurements, we elucidated the network of σ-factor and promoter interactions in Escherichia coli. The reconstructed network includes 4,724 σ-factor-specific promoters corresponding to transcription units (TUs), representing an increase of more than 300% over what has been previously reported. The reconstructed network was used to investigate competition between alternative σ-factors (the σ70 and σ38 regulons), confirming the competition model of σ substitution and negative regulation by alternative σ-factors. Comparison with σ-factor binding in Klebsiella pneumoniae showed that transcriptional regulation of conserved genes in closely related species is unexpectedly divergent.
Conclusions: The reconstructed network reveals the regulatory complexity of the promoter architecture in prokaryotic genomes, and opens a path to the direct determination of the systems biology of their transcriptional regulatory networks.