The heat-shock response, a universal protective mechanism consisting of a transcriptional reprogramming of the cellular transcriptome, results in the accumulation of proteins which counteract the deleterious effects of heat-stress on cellular polypeptides. To quickly respond to thermal stress and trigger the heat-shock response, bacteria rely on different mechanisms to detect temperature variations, which can involve nearly all classes of biological molecules. In Campylobacter jejuni
the response to heat-shock is transcriptionally controlled by a regulatory circuit involving two repressors, HspR and HrcA. In the present work we show that the heat-shock repressor HrcA acts as an intrinsic protein thermometer. We report that a temperature upshift up to 42 °C negatively affects HrcA DNA-binding activity to a target promoter, a condition required for de-repression of regulated genes. Furthermore, we show that this impairment of HrcA binding at 42 °C is irreversible in vitro, as DNA-binding was still not restored by reversing the incubation temperature to 37 °C. On the other hand, we demonstrate that the DNA-binding activity of HspR, which controls, in combination with HrcA, the transcription of chaperones’ genes, is unaffected by heat-stress up to 45 °C, portraying this master repressor as a rather stable protein. Additionally, we show that HrcA binding activity is enhanced by the chaperonin GroE, upon direct protein–protein interaction. In conclusion, the results presented in this work establish HrcA as a novel example of intrinsic heat-sensing transcriptional regulator, whose DNA-binding activity is positively modulated by the GroE chaperonin.
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