We identified a gene (dpiA, Destabilizer of Plasmid Inheritance) which, when overexpressed in Escherichia coli, destabilizes the inheritance of pSC101 and other iteron-containing plasmids as disparate as mini-F and RK6 but not the inheritance of P1, RSF1010 and ColD. These effects of DpiA, which functions like an effector protein for a previously undescribed two-component signal transduction system, were reduced by mutations known to promote pSC101 replication and partitioning. dpiB, a gene encoding the putative histidine kinase of this two-component system, is located immediately 5' to dpiA and adjacent to a DpiA-induced target promoter that transcribes genes having homology to citrate lyase operon genes, citC, citD and citE, of Klebsiella pneumoniae. Disruption of dpiB reversed or reduced the effect of DpiA overproduction on pSC101 inheritance. A second DpiA target, the promoter for a gene (appY) implicated in E. coli's response to anaerobiosis, is repressed by DpiA. A mutation in dpiA at a site commonly conserved and phosphorylated in two-component system effector proteins abolished the effects of DpiA overproduction on pSC101 inheritance and negative regulation of appY expression. Our findings suggest a possible mechanism by which environment and/or cellular stimuli may influence plasmid inheritance.