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ChIP analysis unravels an exceptionally wide distribution of DNA binding sites for the NtcA transcription factor in a heterocyst-forming cyanobacterium

Silvia Picossi*, Enrique Flores and Antonia Herrero

Author Affiliations

Instituto de Bioquímica Vegetal y Fotosíntesis, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Universidad de Sevilla, Américo Vespucio 49, Seville E-41092, Spain

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-22

Published: 13 January 2014



The CRP-family transcription factor NtcA, universally found in cyanobacteria, was initially discovered as a regulator operating N control. It responds to the N regime signaled by the internal 2-oxoglutarate levels, an indicator of the C to N balance of the cells. Canonical NtcA-activated promoters bear an NtcA-consensus binding site (GTAN8TAC) centered at about 41.5 nucleotides upstream from the transcription start point. In strains of the Anabaena/Nostoc genera NtcA is pivotal for the differentiation of heterocysts in response to N stress.


In this study, we have used chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by high-throughput sequencing to identify the whole catalog of NtcA-binding sites in cells of the filamentous, heterocyst-forming cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 three hours after the withdrawal of combined N. NtcA has been found to bind to 2,424 DNA regions in the genome of Anabaena, which have been ascribed to 2,153 genes. Interestingly, only a small proportion of those genes are involved in N assimilation and metabolism, and 65% of the binding regions were located intragenically.


The distribution of NtcA-binding sites identified here reveals the largest bacterial regulon described to date. Our results show that NtcA has a much wider role in the physiology of the cell than it has been previously thought, acting both as a global transcriptional regulator and possibly also as a factor influencing the superstructure of the chromosome (and plasmids).