The presence of an abnormal amount of single-stranded DNA in the bacterial cell constitutes a genotoxic alarm signal that induces the SOS response, a broad regulatory network found in most bacterial species to address DNA damage. The aim of this review was to point out that beyond being a repair process, SOS induction leads to a very strong but transient response to genotoxic stress, during which bacteria can rearrange and mutate their genome, induce several phenotypic changes through differential regulation of genes, and sometimes acquire characteristics that potentiate bacterial survival and adaptation to changing environments. We review here the causes and consequences of SOS induction, but also how this response can be modulated under various circumstances and how it is connected to the network of other important stress responses. In the first section, we review articles describing the induction of the SOS response at the molecular level. The second section discusses consequences of this induction in terms of DNA repair, changes in the genome and gene expression, and sharing of genomic information, with their effects on the bacteria's life and evolution. The third section is about the fine tuning of this response to fit with the bacteria's 'needs'. Finally, we discuss recent findings linking the SOS response to other stress responses. Under these perspectives, SOS can be perceived as a powerful bacterial strategy against aggressions.
Keywords: DNA repair; SOS; adaptation; antibiotic resistance; bacteria; stress.
© 2014 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. All rights reserved.