The production of major extracellular toxins by pathogenic strains of Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium tetani and Clostridium difficile, and a bacteriocin by Clostridium perfringens is dependent on a related group of RNA polymerase sigma-factors. These sigma-factors (BotR, TetR, TcdR and UviA) were shown to be sufficiently similar that they could substitute for one another in in vitro DNA binding and run-off transcription experiments. In cells, however, the sigma-factors fell into two subclasses. BotR and TetR were able to direct transcription of their target genes in a fully reciprocal manner. Similarly, UviA and TcdR were fully interchangeable. Neither BotR nor TetR could substitute for UviA or TcdR, however, and neither UviA nor TcdR could direct transcription of the natural targets of BotR or TetR. The extent of functional interchangeability of the sigma-factors was attributed to the strong conservation of their subregion 4.2 sequences and the conserved -35 sequences of their target promoters, while restrictions on interchangeability were attributed to variations in their subregion 2.4 sequences and the target site -10 sequences. The four sigma-factors have been assigned to group 5 of the sigma(70) family and seem to have arisen from a common ancestral protein that may have co-evolved with the genes whose transcription they direct. A fifth Clostridiumsigma-factor, sigma(Y) of Clostridium acetobutylicum, resembles the TcdR family, but was not functionally interchangeable with members of this family.
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