Open Access Open Badges Research

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

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

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.