Temperature downshifts of Escherichia coli throughout its growth range resulted in transient growth inhibition and a cold shock response consisting of transient induction of several proteins, repression of heat shock proteins, and, despite the growth lag, continued synthesis of proteins involved in transcription and translation. The paradoxical synthesis of the latter proteins, which are normally repressed when growth is arrested, was explored further. First, by means of a nutritional downshift, a natural stringent response was induced in wild-type cells immediately prior to a shift from 37 to 10 degrees C. These cells displayed decreased synthesis of transcriptional and translational proteins and decreased induction of cold shock proteins; also, adaptation for growth at 10 degrees C was delayed, even after restoration of the nutrient supplementation. Next, the contribution of guanosine 5'-triphosphate-3'-diphosphate and guanosine 5'-diphosphate-3'-diphosphate, collectively abbreviated (p)ppGpp, to the alteration in cold shock response was studied with the aid of a mutant strain in which overproduction of these nucleotides can be artificially induced. Induction of (p)ppGpp synthesis immediately prior to shifting this strain from 37 to 10 degrees C produced results differing only in a few details from those described above for nutritional downshift of the wild-type strain. Finally, shifting a relA spoT mutant, which cannot synthesize (p)ppGpp, from 24 to 10 degrees C resulted in a greater induction of the cold shock proteins, increased synthesis of transcriptional and translational proteins, decreased synthesis of a major heat shock protein, and faster adaptation to growth than for the wild-type strain. Our results indicate that the previously reported decrease in the (p)ppGpp level following temperature downshift plays a physiological role in the regulation of gene expression and adaptation for growth at low temperature
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