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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A combination of improved differential and global RNA-seq reveals pervasive transcription initiation and events in all stages of the life-cycle of functional RNAs in Propionibacterium acnes, a major contributor to wide-spread human disease

Yu-fei Lin1, David Romero A1, Shuang Guan1, Lira Mamanova2 and Kenneth J McDowall1*

Author Affiliations

1 Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

2 The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:620  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-620

Published: 14 September 2013



Sequencing of the genome of Propionibacterium acnes produced a catalogue of genes many of which enable this organism to colonise skin and survive exposure to the elements. Despite this platform, there was little understanding of the gene regulation that gives rise to an organism that has a major impact on human health and wellbeing and causes infections beyond the skin. To address this situation, we have undertaken a genome–wide study of gene regulation using a combination of improved differential and global RNA-sequencing and an analytical approach that takes into account the inherent noise within the data.


We have produced nucleotide-resolution transcriptome maps that identify and differentiate sites of transcription initiation from sites of stable RNA processing and mRNA cleavage. Moreover, analysis of these maps provides strong evidence for ‘pervasive’ transcription and shows that contrary to initial indications it is not biased towards the production of antisense RNAs. In addition, the maps reveal an extensive array of riboswitches, leaderless mRNAs and small non-protein-coding RNAs alongside vegetative promoters and post-transcriptional events, which includes unusual tRNA processing. The identification of such features will inform models of complex gene regulation, as illustrated here for ribonucleotide reductases and a potential quorum-sensing, two-component system.


The approach described here, which is transferable to any bacterial species, has produced a step increase in whole-cell knowledge of gene regulation in P. acnes. Continued expansion of our maps to include transcription associated with different growth conditions and genetic backgrounds will provide a new platform from which to computationally model the gene expression that determines the physiology of P. acnes and its role in human disease.

Pervasive transcription; Leaderless mRNA; Small non-protein-coding RNAs; RNA degradation and processing; Promoters and regulatory elements; Transcriptional landscape; Differential and global RNA-seq