The genome of the Gram-positive soil bacterium Corynebacterium glutamicum ATCC 13032 contains three integrated prophage elements (CGP1 to -3). Recently, it was shown that the large lysogenic prophage CGP3 (∼187 kbp) is excised spontaneously in a small number of cells. In this study, we provide evidence that a spontaneously induced SOS response is partly responsible for the observed spontaneous CGP3 induction. Whereas previous studies focused mainly on the induction of prophages at the population level, we analyzed the spontaneous CGP3 induction at the single-cell level using promoters of phage genes (Pint2 and Plysin) fused to reporter genes encoding fluorescent proteins. Flow-cytometric analysis revealed a spontaneous CGP3 activity in about 0.01 to 0.08% of the cells grown in standard minimal medium, which displayed a significantly reduced viability. A PrecA-eyfp promoter fusion revealed that a small fraction of C. glutamicum cells (∼0.2%) exhibited a spontaneous induction of the SOS response. Correlation of PrecA to the activity of downstream SOS genes (PdivS and PrecN) confirmed a bona fide induction of this stress response rather than stochastic gene expression. Interestingly, the reporter output of PrecA and CGP3 promoter fusions displayed a positive correlation at the single-cell level (ρ = 0.44 to 0.77). Furthermore, analysis of the PrecA-eyfp/Pint2-e2-crimson strain during growth revealed the highest percentage of spontaneous PrecA and Pint2 activity in the early exponential phase, when fast replication occurs. Based on these studies, we postulate that spontaneously occurring DNA damage induces the SOS response, which in turn triggers the induction of lysogenic prophages.
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