The transcription regulator BrsR serves as a network hub of natural competence protein-protein interactions in Streptococcus mutans

Hua Qin, Zhengzhong Zou, David Anderson, Yu Sang, Dustin Higashi, Jens Kreth, Justin Merritt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Genome evolution is an essential and stringently regulated aspect of biological fitness. For bacteria, natural competence is one of the principal mechanisms of genome evolution and is frequently subject to multiple layers of regulation derived from a plethora of environmental and physiological stimuli. Here, we present a regulatory mechanism that illustrates how such disparate stimuli can be integrated into the Streptococcus mutans natural competence phenotype. S. mutans possesses an intriguing, but poorly understood ability to coordinately control its independently regulated natural competence and bacteriocin genetic pathways as a means to acquire DNA released from closely related, bacteriocinsusceptible streptococci. Our results reveal how the bacteriocinspecific transcription activator BrsR directly mediates this coordination by serving as an anti-adaptor protein responsible for antagonizing the proteolysis of the inherently unstable, natural competence-specific alternative sigma factor ComX. This BrsR ability functions entirely independent of its transcription regulator function and directly modulates the timing and severity of the natural competence phenotype. Additionally, many of the DNA uptake proteins produced by the competence system were surprisingly found to possess adaptor abilities, which are employed to terminate the BrsR regulatory circuit via negative feedback. BrsR- competence protein heteromeric complexes directly inhibit nascent brsR transcription as well as stimulate the Clp-dependent proteolysis of extant BrsR proteins. This study illustrates how critical genetic regulatory abilities can evolve in a potentially limitless variety of proteins without disrupting their conserved ancestral functions. These unrecognized regulatory abilities are likely fundamental for transducing information through complex genetic networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2106048118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 28 2021


  • Bacteriocin
  • Gene regulation
  • Genetic networks
  • Natural competence
  • Protein-protein interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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