Mechanism of Transcription Activation at the comG Promoter by the Competence Transcription Factor ComK of Bacillus subtilis

K. A. Susanna, A. F. Van Der Werff, C. D. Den Hengst, B. Calles, M. Salas, G. Venema, L. W. Hamoen*, O. P. Kuipers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The development of genetic competence in Bacillus subtilis is regulated by a complex signal transduction cascade, which results in the synthesis of the competence transcription factor, encoded by comK. ComK is required for the transcription of the late competence genes that encode the DNA binding and uptake machinery and of genes required for homologous recombination. In vivo and in vitro experiments have shown that ComK is responsible for transcription activation at the comG promoter. In this study, we investigated the mechanism of this transcription activation. The intrinsic binding characteristics of RNA polymerase with and without ComK at the comG promoter were determined, demonstrating that ComK stabilizes the binding of RNA polymerase to the comG promoter. This stabilization probably occurs through interactions with the upstream DNA, since a deletion of the upstream DNA resulted in an almost complete abolishment of stabilization of RNA polymerase binding. Furthermore, a strong requirement for the presence of an extra AT box in addition to the common ComK-binding site was shown. In vitro transcription with B. subtilis RNA polymerase reconstituted with wild-type α-subunits and with C-terminal deletion mutants of the α-subunits was performed, demonstrating that these deletions do not abolish transcription activation by ComK. This indicates that ComK is not a type I activator. We also show that ComK is not required for open complex formation. A possible mechanism for transcription activation is proposed, implying that the major stimulatory effect of ComK is on binding of RNA polymerase.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1120-1128
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


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