Horizontal DNA transfer plays a major role in the evolution of bacteria. It allows them to acquire new traits rapidly and these may confer fitness advantages as the bacteria compete with others in the environment. Historically, the mechanisms of horizontal DNA transfer, chiefly conjugation, transformation and transduction, have received a great deal of attention. Less attention has been focused on the regulatory problems that may accompany the acquisition of new genes by lateral routes. How are these genes integrated into the existing regulatory circuits of the cell? Does a process of ‘plug-and-play’ operate, or are the new genes silenced pending the evolution of regulatory mechanisms that make their expression not only safe but also beneficial to both the gene and its new host? Recent research shows that bacterial nucleoid-associated proteins such as H-NS, HU and Fis are important contributors to the processes of regulatory integration that accompany horizontal gene transfer. A key emerging theme is the antagonism that exists between the DNA–protein–DNA bridging activity of the H-NS repressor and the DNA-bending and DNA-wrapping activities of regulatory proteins that oppose H-NS.