The interaction between transcription factors, promoter elements and RNA polymerase is crucial to bacterial adaptation to physical and chemical changes in the environment. Transcription factor discovery has strongly relied on the isolation of regulatory mutants followed by biochemical confirmation. However, highly pleiotropic regulatory mutations can often be deleterious, unstable and difficult to select, or could directly or indirectly affect gene expression at multiple levels. Here, we describe a biochemical approach to identify trans-acting regulatory proteins independent of their cellular function that could be used as an alternative to genetic screens. The method consists in (i) incubating bacterial lysates with an immobilized DNA encompassing a promoter as defined by RNA-Seq data (ii) pull down of bound proteins and (iii) liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). We tested the usefulness of this approach by identifying proteins binding to the Vibrio cholerae rpoS promoter that drives the expression of the general stress response regulator RpoS. The approach identified several proteins binding to the rpoS promoter that included the factor for inversion stimulation (FIS), and the master quorum sensing regulator HapR. Binding of both purified proteins to the rpoS promoter was confirmed by electrophoresis mobility shift assays. The role of fis and hapR on rpoS expression was examined in strains containing a chromosomally-integrated rpoS-lacZ fusion. Deletion of fis had little effect while HapR appeared to enhance rpoS expression.

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