Cross-talk suppression between the CpxA–CpxR and EnvZ–OmpR two-component systems in E. coli


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Many bacteria possess large numbers of two-component signalling systems, which are composed of histidine kinase-response regulator pairs. The high level of sequence similarity between some systems raises the possibility of undesired cross-talk between a histidine kinase and a non-cognate response regulator. Although molecular specificity ensures that phospho-transfer occurs primarily between correct partners, even a low level of inappropriate cross-talk could lead to unacceptable levels of noise or interference in signal transduction. To explore mechanisms that provide insulation against such interference, we have examined cross-talk between the histidine kinase CpxA and non-cognate response regulator OmpR in Escherichia coli. Our results show that there are two mechanisms that suppress cross-talk between these two proteins, which depend on the corresponding cognate partners CpxR and EnvZ and on the bifunctional nature of the histidine kinases CpxA and EnvZ. When cross-talk is detectable, we find it is independent of CpxA stimulus. We also show that cross-talk suppression leads to mutational robustness, i.e. it masks the effects of mutations that would otherwise lead to increased cross-talk. The mechanisms that provide insulation against interference described here may be applicable to many other two-component systems.