Planosporicin is a ribosomally synthesized, posttranslationally modified peptide lantibiotic produced by the actinomycete Planomonospora alba. It contains one methyl-lanthionine and four lanthionine bridges and inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in other Gram-positive bacteria probably by binding to lipid II, the immediate precursor for cell wall biosynthesis. Planosporicin production, which is encoded by a cluster of 15 genes, is confined to stationary phase in liquid culture and to the onset of morphological differentiation when P. alba is grown on agar. This growth phase-dependent gene expression is controlled transcriptionally by three pathway-specific regulatory proteins: an extracytoplasmic function σ factor (PspX), its cognate anti-σ factor (PspW), and a transcriptional activator (PspR) with a C-terminal helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domain. Using mutational analysis, S1 nuclease mapping, quantitative RT-PCR, and transcriptional fusions, we have determined the direct regulatory dependencies within the planosporicin gene cluster and present a model in which subinhibitory concentrations of the lantibiotic function in a feed-forward mechanism to elicit high levels of planosporicin production. We show that in addition to acting as an antibiotic, planosporicin can function as an extracellular signaling molecule to elicit precocious production of the lantibiotic, presumably ensuring synchronous and concerted lantibiotic biosynthesis in the wider population and, thus, the production of ecologically effective concentrations of the antibiotic.
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