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Stress response regulators identified through genome-wide transcriptome analysis of the (p)ppGpp-dependent response in Rhizobium etli

Maarten Vercruysse, Maarten Fauvart, Ann Jans, Serge Beullens, Kristien Braeken, Lore Cloots, Kristof Engelen, Kathleen Marchal and Jan Michiels*

Author Affiliations

Centre of Microbial and Plant Genetics, Katholiek Universiteit Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 20, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium

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Genome Biology 2011, 12:R17  doi:10.1186/gb-2011-12-2-r17

Published: 16 February 2011



The alarmone (p)ppGpp mediates a global reprogramming of gene expression upon nutrient limitation and other stresses to cope with these unfavorable conditions. Synthesis of (p)ppGpp is, in most bacteria, controlled by RelA/SpoT (Rsh) proteins. The role of (p)ppGpp has been characterized primarily in Escherichia coli and several Gram-positive bacteria. Here, we report the first in-depth analysis of the (p)ppGpp-regulon in an α-proteobacterium using a high-resolution tiling array to better understand the pleiotropic stress phenotype of a relA/rsh mutant.


We compared gene expression of the Rhizobium etli wild type and rsh (previously rel) mutant during exponential and stationary phase, identifying numerous (p)ppGpp targets, including small non-coding RNAs. The majority of the 834 (p)ppGpp-dependent genes were detected during stationary phase. Unexpectedly, 223 genes were expressed (p)ppGpp-dependently during early exponential phase, indicating the hitherto unrecognized importance of (p)ppGpp during active growth. Furthermore, we identified two (p)ppGpp-dependent key regulators for survival during heat and oxidative stress and one regulator putatively involved in metabolic adaptation, namely extracytoplasmic function sigma factor EcfG2/PF00052, transcription factor CH00371, and serine protein kinase PrkA.


The regulatory role of (p)ppGpp in R. etli stress adaptation is far-reaching in redirecting gene expression during all growth phases. Genome-wide transcriptome analysis of a strain deficient in a global regulator, and exhibiting a pleiotropic phenotype, enables the identification of more specific regulators that control genes associated with a subset of stress phenotypes. This work is an important step toward a full understanding of the regulatory network underlying stress responses in α-proteobacteria.