A new quorum-sensing system (TprA/PhrA) for Streptococcus pneumoniae D39 that regulates a lantibiotic biosynthesis gene cluster.
Under conditions of nutrient limitation and high population density, the bacterium Bacillus subtilis can initiate a variety of developmental pathways. The signaling systems regulating B. subtilis differentiation are tightly controlled by switch proteins called Raps, named after the founding members of the family, which were shown to be response regulator aspartate phosphatases. A phr gene encoding a secreted pentapeptide that regulates the activity of its associated Rap protein was previously identified downstream of 8 of the chromosomally encoded rap genes. We identify and validate here the sequence of an atypical Phr peptide, PhrH, by in vivo and in vitro analyses. Using a luciferase reporter bioassay combined with in vitro experiments, we found that PhrH is a hexapeptide (TDRNTT), in contrast to the other characterized Phr pentapeptides. We also determined that phrH expression is driven by a promoter lying within rapH. Unlike the previously identified dedicated σ(H)-driven phr promoters, it appears that phrH expression most likely requires σ(A). Furthermore, we show that PhrH can antagonize both of the known activities of RapH: the dephosphorylation of Spo0F and the sequestration of ComA, thus promoting the development of spores and the competent state. Finally, we propose that PhrH is the prototype of a newly identified class of Phr signaling molecules consisting of six amino acids. This class likely includes PhrI, which regulates RapI and the expression, excision, and transfer of the mobile genetic element ICEBs1.