Gene expression profiling of Escherichia coli growth transitions: an expanded stringent response model



When conditions cause bacterial growth to stop, extensive reprogramming of physiology and gene expression allows for the cell's survival. We used whole-genome DNA arrays to determine the system response in Escherichia coli cells experiencing transient growth arrest caused by glucose–lactose diauxie and H2O2 treatment, and also entry into stationary phase. The results show that growth-arrested cells induce stringent control of several gene systems. The vast majority of genes encoding the transcription and translation apparatus immediately downregulate, followed by a global return to steady state when growth resumes. Approximately one-half of the amino acid biosynthesis genes downregulate during growth arrest, with the notable exception of the his operon, which transiently upregulates in the diauxie experiment. Nucleotide biosynthesis downregulates, a result that is again consistent with the stringent response. Likewise, aerobic metabolism downregulates during growth arrest, and the results led us to suggest a model for stringent control of the ArcA regulon. The stationary phase stress response fully induces during growth arrest, whether transient or permanent, in a manner consistent with known mechanisms related to stringent control. Cells similarly induce the addiction module anti-toxin and toxin genes during growth arrest; the latter are known to inhibit translation and DNA replication. The results indicate that in all aspects of the response cells do not distinguish between transient and potentially permanent growth arrest (stationary phase). We introduce an expanded model for the stringent response that integrates induction of stationary phase survival genes and inhibition of transcription, translation and DNA replication. Central to the model is the reprogramming of transcription by guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp), which provides for the cell's rapid response to growth arrest and, by virtue of its brief half-life, the ability to quickly resume growth as changing conditions allow.