Journal of bacteriology

Function of the Histone-Like Protein H-NS in Motility of Escherichia coli: Multiple Regulatory Roles Rather than Direct Action at the Flagellar Motor.

PMID 26195595


A number of investigations of Escherichia coli have suggested that the DNA-binding protein H-NS, in addition to its well-known functions in chromosome organization and gene regulation, interacts directly with the flagellar motor to modulate its function. Here, in a study initially aimed at characterizing the H-NS/motor interaction further, we identify problems and limitations in the previous work that substantially weaken the case for a direct H-NS/motor interaction. Null hns mutants are immotile, largely owing to the downregulation of the flagellar master regulators FlhD and FlhC. We, and others, previously reported that an hns mutant remains poorly motile even when FlhDC are expressed constitutively. In the present work, we use better-engineered strains to show that the motility defect in a Δhns, FlhDC-constitutive strain is milder than that reported previously and does not point to a direct action of H-NS at the motor. H-NS regulates numerous genes and might influence motility via a number of regulatory molecules besides FlhDC. To examine the sources of the motility defect that persists in an FlhDC-constitutive Δhns mutant, we measured transcript levels and overexpression effects of a number of genes in candidate regulatory pathways. The results indicate that H-NS influences motility via multiple regulatory linkages that include, minimally, the messenger molecule cyclic di-GMP, the biofilm regulatory protein CsgD, and the sigma factors σ(S) and σ(F). The results are in accordance with the more standard view of H-NS as a regulator of gene expression rather than a direct modulator of flagellar motor performance. Data from a number of previous studies have been taken to indicate that the nucleoid-organizing protein H-NS influences motility not only by its well-known DNA-based mechanisms but also by binding directly to the flagellar motor to alter function. In this study, H-NS is shown to influence motility through diverse regulatory pathways, but a direct interaction with the motor is not supported. Previous indications of a direct action at the motor appear to be related to the use of nonnull strains and, in some cases, a failure to effectively bypass the requirement for H-NS in the expression of the flagellar regulon. These findings call for a substantially revised interpretation of the literature concerning H-NS and flagellar motility and highlight the importance of H-NS in diverse regulatory processes involved in the motile-sessile transition.