Genome scale patterns of supercoiling in a bacterial chromosome

Nat Commun. 2016 Mar 30;7:11055. doi: 10.1038/ncomms11055.


DNA in bacterial cells primarily exists in a negatively supercoiled state. The extent of supercoiling differs between regions of the chromosome, changes in response to external conditions and regulates gene expression. Here we report the use of trimethylpsoralen intercalation to map the extent of supercoiling across the Escherichia coli chromosome during exponential and stationary growth phases. We find that stationary phase E. coli cells display a gradient of negative supercoiling, with the terminus being more negatively supercoiled than the origin of replication, and that such a gradient is absent in exponentially growing cells. This stationary phase pattern is correlated with the binding of the nucleoid-associated protein HU, and we show that it is lost in an HU deletion strain. We suggest that HU establishes higher supercoiling near the terminus of the chromosome during stationary phase, whereas during exponential growth DNA gyrase and/or transcription equalizes supercoiling across the chromosome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / genetics*
  • DNA Gyrase / metabolism
  • DNA, Superhelical / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Ficusin / pharmacology
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Hydroxyurea / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Superhelical
  • DNA Gyrase
  • Ficusin
  • Hydroxyurea