A highly conserved Sinorhizobium meliloti operon is induced microaerobically via the FixLJ system and by nitric oxide (NO) via NnrR

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A previously generated collection of 11 Tn5-luxAB insertion mutants of Sinorhizobium meliloti harbouring lux reporter gene fusions induced under microaerobic (1% O2) conditions was further characterized and mapped on the sequenced S. meliloti genome. One highly induced gene fusion from this collection (loe-7) was found to be located in the intergenic region between sma1292, encoding a putative protease/collagenase, and a gene of unknown function (sma1294). The loe-7 fusion had been shown previously to be partially controlled by the oxygen sensor/regulator FixLJ system, but significant (∼40%) Lux activity remained in a fixLJ mutant background. Therefore, a secondary Tn1721 mutagenesis of the loe-7 strain was carried out. Nine Tn1721 (‘dark’) insertions completely abolishing the Lux activity of the loe-7 fusion under microaerobic conditions were isolated. Surprisingly, five dark insertions mapped in denitrification genes [napA, napC, nirK – two insertions – and sma1245 encoding a NnrR-like transcriptional regulator controlling denitrification in response to nitric oxide (NO)]; Tn1721 insertions in the respiration genes fixG and fixP resulted in a reduced expression of the loe-7–lux fusion, and insertions in the regulatory genes fixJ and fixK1 resulted in low, but still detectable Lux activity. On the contrary, insertions in the norD or norQ genes resulted in constitutive Lux activity. In these mutant strains, NO would be expected to accumulate under microaerobic conditions. NO was found to be able to strongly induce the loe-7–luxAB fusion under microaerobic and aerobic conditions, but only in the presence of the functional nnrR-like gene (sma1245). These results suggest that NO, via the NnrR regulator, can serve as a signal molecule to induce the loe-7–luxAB fusion in concert with the FixLJ system.

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