Production of inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) by bacteria is triggered by a variety of different stress conditions. polyP is required for stress survival and virulence in diverse pathogenic microbes. Previous studies have hypothesized a model for regulation of polyP synthesis in which production of the stringent-response second messenger (p)ppGpp directly stimulates polyP accumulation. In this work, I have now shown that this model is incorrect, and (p)ppGpp is not required for polyP synthesis in Escherichia coli However, stringent mutations of RNA polymerase that frequently arise spontaneously in strains defective in (p)ppGpp synthesis and null mutations of the stringent-response-associated transcription factor DksA both strongly inhibit polyP accumulation. The loss of polyP synthesis in a mutant lacking DksA was reversed by deletion of the transcription elongation factor GreA, suggesting that competition between these proteins for binding to the secondary channel of RNA polymerase plays an important role in controlling polyP activation. These results provide new insights into the poorly understood regulation of polyP synthesis in bacteria and indicate that the relationship between polyP and the stringent response is more complex than previously suspected.IMPORTANCE Production of polyP in bacteria is required for virulence and stress response, but little is known about how bacteria regulate polyP levels in response to changes in their environments. Understanding this regulation is important for understanding how pathogenic microbes resist killing by disinfectants, antibiotics, and the immune system. In this work, I have clarified the connections between polyP regulation and the stringent response to starvation stress in Escherichia coli and demonstrated an important and previously unknown role for the transcription factor DksA in controlling polyP levels.
Keywords: (p)ppGpp; DksA; inorganic polyphosphate; stringent response.
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