Cells respond to genome damage by inducing restorative programs, typified by the SOS response of Escherichia coli
. Streptococcus pneumoniae
(the pneumococcus), with no equivalent to the SOS system, induces the genetic program of competence in response to many types of stress, including genotoxic drugs. The pneumococcal competence regulon is controlled by the origin-proximal, auto-inducible com
CDE operon. It was previously proposed that replication stress induces competence through continued initiation of replication in cells with arrested forks, thereby increasing the relative com
CDE gene dosage and expression and accelerating the onset of competence. We have further investigated competence induction by genome stress. We find that absence of RecA recombinase stimulates competence induction, in contrast to SOS response, and that double-strand break repair (RexB) and gap repair (RecO, RecR) initiation effectors confer a similar effect, implying that recombinational repair removes competence induction signals. Failure of replication forks provoked by titrating PolC polymerase with the base analogue HPUra, over-supplying DnaA initiator, or under-supplying DnaE polymerase or DnaC helicase stimulated competence induction. This induction was not correlated with concurrent changes in origin-proximal gene dosage. Our results point to arrested and unrepaired replication forks, rather than increased com
CDE dosage, as a basic trigger of pneumococcal competence.
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