Sensory Systems and Transcriptional Regulation in Escherichia coli

Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2022 Feb 14:10:823240. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2022.823240. eCollection 2022.


In free-living bacteria, the ability to regulate gene expression is at the core of adapting and interacting with the environment. For these systems to have a logic, a signal must trigger a genetic change that helps the cell to deal with what implies its presence in the environment; briefly, the response is expected to include a feedback to the signal. Thus, it makes sense to think of genetic sensory mechanisms of gene regulation. Escherichia coli K-12 is the bacterium model for which the largest number of regulatory systems and its sensing capabilities have been studied in detail at the molecular level. In this special issue focused on biomolecular sensing systems, we offer an overview of the transcriptional regulatory corpus of knowledge for E. coli that has been gathered in our database, RegulonDB, from the perspective of sensing regulatory systems. Thus, we start with the beginning of the information flux, which is the signal's chemical or physical elements detected by the cell as changes in the environment; these signals are internally transduced to transcription factors and alter their conformation. Signals transduced to effectors bind allosterically to transcription factors, and this defines the dominant sensing mechanism in E. coli. We offer an updated list of the repertoire of known allosteric effectors, as well as a list of the currently known different mechanisms of this sensing capability. Our previous definition of elementary genetic sensory-response units, GENSOR units for short, that integrate signals, transport, gene regulation, and the biochemical response of the regulated gene products of a given transcriptional factor fit perfectly with the purpose of this overview. We summarize the functional heterogeneity of their response, based on our updated collection of GENSORs, and we use them to identify the expected feedback as part of their response. Finally, we address the question of multiple sensing in the regulatory network of E. coli. This overview introduces the architecture of sensing and regulation of native components in E.coli K-12, which might be a source of inspiration to bioengineering applications.

Keywords: E. coli; biosensor; feedback; gene regulation; sensory-response genetic units; signal; transcription factor; transcriptional regulatory network.

Publication types

  • Review