Gene expression in bacteria is regulated at the level of transcription initiation, a process driven by σ factors. The regulation of σ factor activity proceeds from the regulation of their cytoplasmic availability, which relies on specific inhibitory proteins called anti-σ factors. With anti-σ factors regulating their availability according to diverse cues, extracytoplasmic function σ factors (σ(ECF)) form a major signal transduction system in bacteria. Here, structure:function relationships have been characterized in an emerging class of minimal-size transmembrane anti-σ factors, using CnrY from Cupriavidus metallidurans CH34 as a model. This study reports the 1.75-Å-resolution structure of CnrY cytosolic domain in complex with CnrH, its cognate σ(ECF), and identifies a small hydrophobic knob in CnrY as the major determinant of this interaction in vivo. Unsuspected structural similarity with the molecular switch regulating the general stress response in α-proteobacteria unravels a new class of anti-σ factors targeting σ(ECF). Members of this class carry out their function via a 30-residue stretch that displays helical propensity but no canonical structure on its own.
Keywords: bacterial transcription; metal resistance; protein:protein interaction; sigma factor; transmembrane signaling.
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