The absence of (P)ppGpp renders initiation of Escherichia coli chromosomal DNA synthesis independent of growth rates

Llorenç Fernández-Coll, Monika Maciag-Dorszynska, Krishma Tailor, Stephen Vadia, Petra Anne Levin, Agnieszka Szalewska-Palasz, Michael Cashel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The initiation of Escherichia coli chromosomal DNA replication starts with the oligomerization of the DnaA protein at repeat sequences within the origin (ori) region. The amount of ori DNA per cell directly correlates with the growth rate. During fast growth, the cell generation time is shorter than the time required for complete DNA replication; therefore, overlapping rounds of chromosome replication are required. Under these circumstances, the ori region DNA abundance exceeds the DNA abundance in the termination (ter) region. Here, high ori/ter ratios are found to persist in (p)ppGpp-deficient [(p)ppGpp0] cells over a wide range of balanced exponential growth rates determined by medium composition. Evidently, (p)ppGpp is necessary to maintain the usual correlation of slow DNA replication initiation with a low growth rate. Conversely, ori/ter ratios are lowered when cell growth is slowed by incrementally increasing even low constitutive basal levels of (p)ppGpp without stress, as if (p)ppGpp alone is sufficient for this response. There are several previous reports of (p)ppGpp inhibition of chromosomal DNA synthesis initiation that occurs with very high levels of (p)ppGpp that stop growth, as during the stringent starvation response or during serine hydroxamate treatment. This work suggests that low physiological levels of (p)ppGpp have significant functions in growing cells without stress through a mechanism involving negative supercoiling, which is likely mediated by (p)ppGpp regulation of DNA gyrase. IMPORTANCE Bacterial cells regulate their own chromosomal DNA synthesis and cell division depending on the growth conditions, producing more DNA when growing in nutritionally rich media than in poor media (i.e., human gut versus water res-ervoir). The accumulation of the nucleotide analog (p)ppGpp is usually viewed as serving to warn cells of impending peril due to otherwise lethal sources of stress, which stops growth and inhibits DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis. This work impor-tantly finds that small physiological changes in (p)ppGpp basal levels associated with slow balanced exponential growth incrementally inhibit the intricate process of initiation of chromosomal DNA synthesis. Without (p)ppGpp, initiations mimic the high rates present during fast growth. Here, we report that the effect of (p)ppGpp may be due to the regulation of the expression of gyrase, an important enzyme for the replication of DNA that is a current target of several antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03223-19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Chromosome initiation
  • DNA replication
  • Escherichia coli
  • Growth rate
  • PpGpp


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