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ppGpp Metabolism Is Involved in Heterocyst Development in the Cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. Strain PCC 7120

Zhang, Shao-Ran, Lin, Gui-Ming, Chen, Wen-Li, Wang, Li, Zhang, Cheng-Cai
Journal of bacteriology 2013 v.195 no.19 pp. 4536-4544
Anabaena, Cyanobacterium (genus), bacteria, bacteriology, cell viability, culture media, gene expression regulation, gene overexpression, metabolism, mutants, nitrogen, nitrogen fixation, phenotype, stress response, vegetative cells
When deprived of a combined-nitrogen source in the growth medium, the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 (Anabaena) can form heterocysts capable of nitrogen fixation. The process of heterocyst differentiation takes about 20 to 24 h, during which extensive metabolic and morphological changes take place. Guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp) is the signal of the stringent response that ensures cell survival by adjusting major cellular activities in response to nutrient starvation in bacteria, and ppGpp accumulates at the early stage of heterocyst differentiation (J. Akinyanju, R. J. Smith, FEBS Lett. 107:173–176, 1979; J Akinyanju, R. J. Smith, New Phytol. 105:117–122, 1987). Here we show that all1549 (here designated relana) in Anabaena, homologous to relA/spoT, is upregulated in response to nitrogen deprivation and predominantly localized in vegetative cells. The disruption of relana strongly affects the synthesis of ppGpp, and the resulting mutant, all1549Ωsp/sm, fails to form heterocysts and to grow in the absence of a combined-nitrogen source. This phenotype can be complemented by a wild-type copy of relana. Although the upregulation of hetR is affected in the mutant, ectopic overexpression of hetR cannot rescue the phenotype. However, we found that the mutant rapidly loses its viability, within a time window of 3 to 6 h, following the deprivation of combined nitrogen. We propose that ppGpp plays a major role in rebalancing the metabolic activities of the cells in the absence of the nitrogen source supply and that this regulation is necessary for filament survival and consequently for the success of heterocyst differentiation.