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Fluctuations in nutrient availability often result in recurrent exposures to the same stimulus conditions. The ability to memorize the past event and use the "memory" to make adjustments to current behaviors can lead to a more efficient adaptation to the recurring stimulus. A short-term phenotypic memory can be conferred via carryover of the response proteins to facilitate the recurrent response, but the additional accumulation of response proteins can lead to a deviation from response homeostasis. We used the Escherichia coli PhoB/PhoR two-component system (TCS) as a model system to study how cells cope with the recurrence of environmental phosphate (Pi) starvation conditions. We discovered that "memory" of prior Pi starvation can exert distinct effects through two regulatory pathways, the TCS signaling pathway and the stress response pathway. Although carryover of TCS proteins can lead to higher initial levels of transcription factor PhoB and a faster initial response in prestarved cells than in cells not starved, the response enhancement can be overcome by an earlier and greater repression of promoter activity in prestarved cells due to the memory of the stress response. The repression counterbalances the carryover of the response proteins, leading to a homeostatic response whether or not cells are prestimulated. A computational model based on sigma factor competition was developed to understand the memory of stress response and to predict the homeostasis of other PhoB-regulated response proteins. Our insight into the history-dependent PhoBR response may provide a general understanding of how TCSs respond to recurring stimuli and adapt to fluctuating environmental conditions.IMPORTANCE Bacterial cells in their natural environments experience scenarios that are far more complex than are typically replicated in laboratory experiments. The architectures of signaling systems and the integration of multiple adaptive pathways have evolved to deal with such complexity. In this study, we examined the molecular "memory" that is generated by previous exposure to stimulus. Under our experimental conditions, activating effects of autoregulated two-component signaling and inhibitory effects of the stress response counterbalanced the transcriptional output to approach response homeostasis whether or not cells had been preexposed to stimulus. Modeling allows prediction of response behavior in different scenarios and demonstrates both the robustness of the system output and its sensitivity to historical parameters such as timing and levels of exposure to stimuli. Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.


Rong Gao, Katherine A Godfrey, Mahir A Sufian, Ann M Stock. Counterbalancing Regulation in Response Memory of a Positively Autoregulated Two-Component System. Journal of bacteriology. 2017 Sep 15;199(18)

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PMID: 28674072

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