Antirepression as a second mechanism of transcriptional activation by a minor groove binding protein

Wiep Klaas Smits, Tran Thu Hoa, Leendert W. Hamoen, Oscar P. Kuipers, David Dubnau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Competence for genetic transformation in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis is a bistable differentiation process governed by the minor groove DNA binding protein ComK. No detectable comK transcription occurs in the absence of an intact comK gene, indicating that ComK has auto-activating properties. ComK auto-stimulation, which is dependent on ComK binding to the comK promoter, is a critical step in competence development, ensuring quick and high-level expression of the late-competence genes. Auto-stimulation is also essential for the bistable expression pattern of competence. Here, we demonstrate that ComK acts as an activator at its own promoter by antagonizing the action of two repressors, Rok and CodY. Importantly, antirepression occurs without preventing binding of the repressing proteins, suggesting that ComK and the repressors might bind at distinct surfaces of the DNA helix. DegU, a DNA binding protein known to increase the affinity of ComK for its own promoter, potentiates the antirepression activity of ComK. We postulate that antirepression is primarily achieved through modulation of DNA topology. Although to our knowledge ComK is the only DNA binding protein shown to act in this novel fashion, other minor groove binding proteins may act similarly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-381
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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