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Open Access Research article

The interplay of StyR and IHF regulates substrate-dependent induction and carbon catabolite repression of styrene catabolism genes in Pseudomonas fluorescens ST

Giordano Rampioni12, Livia Leoni1, Biancamaria Pietrangeli2 and Elisabetta Zennaro1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University Roma Tre, Viale Marconi 446, 00146, Rome, Italy

2 Istituto Superiore per la Prevenzione e la Sicurezza sul Lavoro, Dipartimento Insediamenti Produttivi ed Interazioni con l'Ambiente, Via Urbana 167, 00184, Rome, Italy

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2008, 8:92  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-92

Published: 11 June 2008



In Pseudomonas fluorescens ST, the promoter of the styrene catabolic operon, PstyA, is induced by styrene and is subject to catabolite repression. PstyA regulation relies on the StyS/StyR two-component system and on the IHF global regulator. The phosphorylated response regulator StyR (StyR-P) activates PstyA in inducing conditions when it binds to the high-affinity site STY2, located about -40 bp from the transcription start point. A cis-acting element upstream of STY2, named URE, contains a low-affinity StyR-P binding site (STY1), overlapping the IHF binding site. Deletion of the URE led to a decrease of promoter activity in inducing conditions and to a partial release of catabolite repression. This study was undertaken to assess the relative role played by IHF and StyR-P on the URE, and to clarify if PstyA catabolite repression could rely on the interplay of these regulators.


StyR-P and IHF compete for binding to the URE region. PstyA full activity in inducing conditions is achieved when StyR-P and IHF bind to site STY2 and to the URE, respectively. Under catabolite repression conditions, StyR-P binds the STY1 site, replacing IHF at the URE region. StyR-P bound to both STY1 and STY2 sites oligomerizes, likely promoting the formation of a DNA loop that closes the promoter in a repressed conformation. We found that StyR and IHF protein levels did not change in catabolite repression conditions, implying that PstyA repression is achieved through an increase in the StyR-P/StyR ratio.


We propose a model according to which the activity of the PstyA promoter is determined by conformational changes. An open conformation is operative in inducing conditions when StyR-P is bound to STY2 site and IHF to the URE. Under catabolite repression conditions StyR-P cellular levels would increase, displacing IHF from the URE and closing the promoter in a repressed conformation. The balance between the open and the closed promoter conformation would determine a fine modulation of the promoter activity. Since StyR and IHF protein levels do not vary in the different conditions, the key-factor regulating PstyA catabolite repression is likely the kinase activity of the StyR-cognate sensor protein StyS.