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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification of a novel anti-σE factor in Neisseria meningitidis

Carla Th P Hopman1, Dave Speijer2, Arie van der Ende1 and Yvonne Pannekoek1*

Author Affiliations

1 Academic Medical Center, Center for Infection and Immunity Amsterdam (CINIMA), Department of Medical Microbiology, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Academic Medical Center, Department of Medical Biochemistry, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:164  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-164

Published: 4 June 2010



Fine tuning expression of genes is a prerequisite for the strictly human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis to survive hostile growth conditions and establish disease. Many bacterial species respond to stress by using alternative σ factors which, in complex with RNA polymerase holoenzyme, recognize specific promoter determinants. σE, encoded by rpoE (NMB2144) in meningococci, is known to be essential in mounting responses to environmental challenges in many pathogens. Here we identified genes belonging to the σE regulon of meningococci.


We show that meningococcal σE is part of the polycistronic operon NMB2140-NMB2145 and autoregulated. In addition we demonstrate that σE controls expression of methionine sulfoxide reductase (MsrA/MsrB). Moreover, we provide evidence that the activity of σE is under control of NMB2145, directly downstream of rpoE. The protein encoded by NMB2145 is structurally related to anti-sigma domain (ASD) proteins and characterized by a

inc containing
factor (ZAS) motif, a hall mark of a specific class of Zn2+-binding ASD proteins acting as anti-σ factors. We demonstrate that Cys residues in ZAS, as well as the Cys residue on position 4, are essential for anti-σE activity of NMB2145, as found for a minority of members of the ZAS family that are predicted to act in the cytoplasm and responding to oxidative stimuli. However, exposure of cells to oxidative stimuli did not result in altered expression of σE.


Together, our results demonstrate that meningococci express a functional transcriptionally autoregulated σE factor, the activity of which is controlled by a novel meningococcal anti-σ factor belonging to the ZAS family.