Interactions between DksA and Stress-Responsive Alternative Sigma Factors Control Inorganic Polyphosphate Accumulation in Escherichia coli

J Bacteriol. 2020 Jun 25;202(14):e00133-20. doi: 10.1128/JB.00133-20. Print 2020 Jun 25.


Bacteria synthesize inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) in response to a variety of different stress conditions. polyP protects bacteria by acting as a protein-stabilizing chaperone, metal chelator, or regulator of protein function, among other mechanisms. However, little is known about how stress signals are transmitted in the cell to lead to increased polyP accumulation. Previous work in the model enterobacterium Escherichia coli has indicated that the RNA polymerase-binding regulatory protein DksA is required for polyP synthesis in response to nutrient limitation stress. In this work, I set out to characterize the role of DksA in polyP regulation in more detail. I found that overexpression of DksA increases cellular polyP content (explaining the long-mysterious phenotype of dksA overexpression rescuing growth of a dnaK mutant at high temperatures) and characterized the roles of known functional residues of DksA in this process, finding that binding to RNA polymerase is required but that none of the other functions of DksA appear to be necessary. Transcriptomics revealed genome-wide transcriptional changes upon nutrient limitation, many of which were affected by DksA, and follow-up experiments identified complex interactions between DksA and the stress-sensing alternative sigma factors FliA, RpoN, and RpoE that impact polyP production, indicating that regulation of polyP synthesis is deeply entwined in the multifactorial stress response network of E. coliIMPORTANCE Inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) is an evolutionarily ancient, widely conserved biopolymer required for stress resistance and pathogenesis in diverse bacteria, but we do not understand how its synthesis is regulated. In this work, I gained new insights into this process by characterizing the role of the transcriptional regulator DksA in polyP regulation in Escherichia coli and identifying previously unknown links between polyP synthesis and the stress-responsive alternative sigma factors FliA, RpoN, and RpoE.

Keywords: polyphosphate; sigma factors; stress response; stringent response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA Polymerase Sigma 54 / genetics
  • RNA Polymerase Sigma 54 / metabolism*
  • Sigma Factor / genetics
  • Sigma Factor / metabolism*
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Polyphosphates
  • Sigma Factor
  • dksA protein, E coli
  • rpoN protein, E coli
  • sporulation-specific sigma factors
  • RNA Polymerase Sigma 54