Variation in HU composition during growth of Escherichia coli: the heterodimer is required for long term survival

J Mol Biol. 1997 Oct 17;273(1):93-104. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1997.1310.


The histone-like dimeric HU protein of Escherichia coli is encoded by two closely related genes, hupA and hupB. We show here that expression from the single hupA promoter and from the three hupB promoters varies during growth phase. The weak hupB-P4 promoter is active immediately after dilution. Transcription of the hupA gene is activated early in logarithmic phase. A little later, at mid to late exponential phase, RNA originating at the hupB-P2 promoter is detected. The hupB-P3 promoter is activated last when the cells enter stationary phase. Although the hup mRNAs are unstable, the HU protein is very stable so that the variations in the mRNAs synthesis are reflected in the level of the two HU subunits and in the composition of HU dimers. Cells growing exponentially contain a mixture of homodimeric alpha 2 and heterodimeric alpha beta but no beta 2 is detected. In stationary cells, the predominant form is the heterodimer alpha beta. The presence of the heterodimeric form is required for optimal survival of E. coli after prolonged starvation. The three forms of HU are not equivalent, since beta 2 is incapable of promoting formation of DNA supercoiling like alpha beta and alpha 2 do. The putative roles of each form of HU are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Culture Media
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • DNA, Superhelical / chemistry
  • DNA, Superhelical / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dimerization
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Integration Host Factors
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Denaturation
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Culture Media
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Superhelical
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Integration Host Factors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • histone-like protein HU, bacteria
  • integration host factor, E coli
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I