Molecular basis for the adaptive evolution of environment sensing by H-NS proteins

Xiaochuan Zhao, Umar Farook Shahul Hameed, Vladlena Kharchenko, Chenyi Liao, Franceline Huser, Jacob M Remington, Anand K Radhakrishnan, Mariusz Jaremko, Lukasz Jaremko, Stefan T. Arold, Jianing Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The DNA-binding protein H-NS is a pleiotropic gene regulator in gram-negative bacteria. Through its capacity to sense temperature and other environmental factors, H-NS allows pathogens like Salmonella to adapt their gene expression to their presence inside or outside warm-blooded hosts. To investigate how this sensing mechanism may have evolved to fit different bacterial lifestyles, we compared H-NS orthologs from bacteria that infect humans, plants, and insects, and from bacteria that live on a deep-sea hypothermal vent. The combination of biophysical characterization, high-resolution proton-less NMR spectroscopy and molecular simulations revealed, at an atomistic level, how the same general mechanism was adapted to specific habitats and lifestyles. In particular, we demonstrate how environment-sensing characteristics arise from specifically positioned intra- or intermolecular electrostatic interactions. Our integrative approach clarified the exact modus operandi for H-NS–mediated environmental sensing and suggests that this sensing mechanism resulted from the exaptation of an ancestral protein feature.
Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 7 2021


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