Regulation of the Nitrogen Fixation Genes in the Heterocystous Cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. Strain PCC 7120
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Many multicellular cyanobacteria produce specialized nitrogenfixing heterocysts. During diazotrophic growth of Anabaena (Nostoc) sp. strain PCC 7120, a regulated developmental pattern of single heterocysts separated by about 10 to 20 photosynthetic vegetative cells is maintained along filaments. Heterocyst structure and metabolic activity function together to accommodate oxygensensitive nitrogen fixation, catalyzed by nitrogenase. In this work, we show that the promoter of the nifHDK genes that encode nitrogenase, lies upstream from the intergenic region between nifH and nifU. Excision of the fdxN element is required for transcription of the nifHDK genes. Fluorescence microscopy of reporter strain PnifHDgfp, in the chromosomal nif locus indicated that expression of nifHDK is blocked in mutants that are unable to excise the fdxN element after nitrogen deprivation. We proposed that a promoter upstream of the element, likely PnifB, is required for transcription of the nifHDK genes. Indeed, the PnifHDgfp reporter at an ectopic site did not show GFP fluorescence. A PnifBgfp reporter was expressed specifically in heterocysts indicating that a promoter for the nifB gene lies in the intergenic region upstream of nifB. A stem loop structure located in the intergenic region between nifH and nifU may act as a processing site for production of nifHDK transcripts. We also provide evidence that DevH, a transcriptional regulator, is involved in regulating the nifBfdxNnifSUHDK genes. DevH is a protein belonging to the cAMP receptor protein (CRP) family of proteins that are widespread in bacteria and regulate genes in response to a gamut of physiological conditions. We show that DevH binds specifically to the nifB upstream region but not to the immediate upstream region of nifH. We predict that DevH binds to an NtcAlike binding site upstream of nifB and functions as an activator of the nifBfdxNnifSUHDK genes. Finally, we show that sigE, which is expressed at 16 hours after nitrogen deprivation, is required for normal expression of some heterocyst specific genes, including nifHDK. A sigE mutant shows delayed and reduced expression of nifHDK and some middle and late genes. We hypothesize that DevH in concert with SigE upregulates the expression of nifHDK in heterocysts after nitrogen deprivation.
Kumar, Krithika (2011). Regulation of the Nitrogen Fixation Genes in the Heterocystous Cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. Strain PCC 7120. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from