An RpoHI-Dependent Response Promotes Outgrowth after Extended Stationary Phase in the Alphaproteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides

J Bacteriol. 2017 Jun 27;199(14):e00249-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00249-17. Print 2017 Jul 15.


Under unfavorable growth conditions, bacteria enter stationary phase and can maintain cell viability over prolonged periods with no increase in cell number. To obtain insights into the regulatory mechanisms that allow bacteria to resume growth when conditions become favorable again (outgrowth), we performed global transcriptome analyses at different stages of growth for the alphaproteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides The majority of genes were not differentially expressed across growth phases. After a short stationary phase (about 20 h after growth starts to slow down), only 7% of the genes showed altered expression (fold change of >1.6 or less than -1.6, corresponding to a log2 fold change of >0.65 or less than -0.65, respectively) compared to expression at exponential phase. Outgrowth induced a distinct response in gene expression which was strongly influenced by the length of the preceding stationary phase. After a long stationary phase (about 64 h after growth starts to slow down), a much larger number of genes (15.1%) was induced in outgrowth than after a short stationary phase (1.7%). Many of those genes are known members of the RpoHI/RpoHII regulons and have established functions in stress responses. A main effect of RpoHI on the transcriptome in outgrowth after a long stationary phase was confirmed. Growth experiments with mutant strains further support an important function in outgrowth after prolonged stationary phase for the RpoHI and RpoHII sigma factors.IMPORTANCE In natural environments, the growth of bacteria is limited mostly by lack of nutrients or other unfavorable conditions. It is important for bacterial populations to efficiently resume growth after being in stationary phase, which may last for long periods. Most previous studies on growth-phase-dependent gene expression did not address outgrowth after stationary phase. This study on growth-phase-dependent gene regulation in a model alphaproteobacterium reveals, for the first time, that the length of the stationary phase strongly impacts the transcriptome during outgrowth. The alternative sigma factors RpoHI and RpoHII, which are important regulators of stress responses in alphaproteobacteria, play a major role during outgrowth following prolonged stationary phase. These findings provide the first insight into the regulatory mechanisms enabling efficient outgrowth.

Keywords: Alphaproteobacteria; Rhodobacter sphaeroides; alternative sigma factors; gene regulation; growth adaptation; growth phases.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Survival
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Rhodobacter sphaeroides / cytology
  • Rhodobacter sphaeroides / genetics
  • Rhodobacter sphaeroides / metabolism*
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Transcriptome


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial