Rhodobacter sphaeroides CarD Negatively Regulates Its Own Promoter

J Bacteriol. 2021 Jun 21;JB0021021. doi: 10.1128/JB.00210-21. Online ahead of print.


Bioinformatic analysis showed previously that a majority of promoters in the photoheterotrophic α-proteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides lack the thymine at the last position of the -10 element (-7T), a base that is very highly conserved in promoters in bacteria other than α-proteobacteria. The absence of -7T was correlated with low promoter activity using purified R sphaeroides RNA polymerase (RNAP), but the transcription factor CarD compensated by activating almost all promoters lacking -7T tested in vitro, including rRNA promoters. Here we show that a previously uncharacterized R. sphaeroides promoter, the promoter for carD itself, has high basal activity relative to other tested R. sphaeroides promoters despite lacking -7T, and its activity is inhibited rather than activated by CarD. This high basal activity is dependent on a consensus extended -10 element (TGn) and specific features in the spacer immediately upstream of the extended -10 element. CarD negatively autoregulates its own promoter by producing abortive transcripts, limiting promoter escape and reducing full length mRNA synthesis. This mechanism of negative regulation differs from that employed by classical repressors, in which the transcription factor competes with RNA polymerase for binding to the promoter, and with the mechanism of negative regulation used by transcription factors like DksA/ppGpp and TraR that allosterically inhibit the rate of open complex formation. IMPORTANCE R. sphaeroides CarD activates many promoters by binding directly to RNAP and to DNA just upstream of the -10 element. In contrast, we show here that CarD inhibits its own promoter using the same interactions with RNAP and DNA used for activation. Inhibition results from increasing abortive transcript formation, thereby decreasing promoter escape and full-length RNA synthesis. We propose that the combined interactions of RNAP with CarD, with the extended -10 element, and with features in the adjacent -10/-35 spacer DNA stabilize the promoter complex, reducing promoter clearance. These findings support previous predictions that the effects of CarD on transcription can be either positive or negative, depending on the kinetic properties of the specific promoter.