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Microbiol Rev. 1989 December; 53(4): 450–490.
PMCID: PMC372749

Protein phosphorylation and regulation of adaptive responses in bacteria.


Bacteria continuously adapt to changes in their environment. Responses are largely controlled by signal transduction systems that contain two central enzymatic components, a protein kinase that uses adenosine triphosphate to phosphorylate itself at a histidine residue and a response regulator that accepts phosphoryl groups from the kinase. This conserved phosphotransfer chemistry is found in a wide range of bacterial species and operates in diverse systems to provide different regulatory outputs. The histidine kinases are frequently membrane receptor proteins that respond to environmental signals and phosphorylate response regulators that control transcription. Four specific regulatory systems are discussed in detail: chemotaxis in response to attractant and repellent stimuli (Che), regulation of gene expression in response to nitrogen deprivation (Ntr), control of the expression of enzymes and transport systems that assimilate phosphorus (Pho), and regulation of outer membrane porin expression in response to osmolarity and other culture conditions (Omp). Several additional systems are also examined, including systems that control complex developmental processes such as sporulation and fruiting-body formation, systems required for virulent infections of plant or animal host tissues, and systems that regulate transport and metabolism. Finally, an attempt is made to understand how cross-talk between parallel phosphotransfer pathways can provide a global regulatory curcuitry.

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