Exponentially growing cultures of Bacillus subtilis (PY79) are composed primarily of nonmotile, chained cells. The alternative sigma factor, SigD, promotes the phenotypic switch from nonmotile, chained cells to unchained, motile cells. In the present work, we investigated the role of the GTP-sensing protein CodY in the regulation of SigD. Deletion of codY resulted in a significant increase in SigD accumulation and activity and shifted the proportion of unchained cells up from ∼15% to ∼75%, suggesting that CodY is an important regulator of SigD. CodY was previously shown to bind to the PD3 and Pfla/che promoters located upstream of the first gene in the sigD-containing fla/che operon. Using electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we found that CodY also binds to two other previously uncharacterized sites within the fla/che operon. Mutations in any one of the three binding sites resulted in SigD levels similar to those seen with the ΔcodY mutant, suggesting that each site is sufficient to tip cells toward a maximal level of CodY-dependent SigD accumulation. However, mutations in all three sites were required to phenocopy the ΔcodY mutant's reduced level of cell chaining, consistent with the idea that CodY binding in the fla/che operon is also important for posttranslational control of SigD activity.
Importance: One way that bacteria adapt quickly and efficiently to changes in environmental quality is to employ global transcriptional regulators capable of responding allosterically to key cellular metabolites. In this study, we found that the conserved GTP-sensing protein CodY directly regulates cell motility and chaining in B. subtilis by controlling expression and activity of SigD. Our results suggest that B. subtilis becomes poised for cell dispersal as intracellular GTP levels are depleted.
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