Short-term adaptation to changing environments relies on regulatory elements translating shifting metabolite concentrations into a specifically optimized transcriptome. So far the focus of analyses has been divided between regulatory elements identified in vivo and kinetic studies of small molecules interacting with the regulatory elements in vitro. Here we describe how in vivo regulon kinetics can describe a regulon through the effects of the metabolite controlling it, exemplified by temporal purine exhaustion in Lactococcus lactis. We deduced a causal relation between the pathway precursor 5-phosphoribosyl-a-1-pyrophosphate (PRPP) and individual mRNA levels, whereby unambiguous and homogeneous relations could be obtained for PurR regulated genes, thus linking a specific regulon to a specific metabolite. As PurR activates gene expression upon binding of PRPP, the pur mRNA curves reflect the in vivo kinetics of PurR PRPP binding and activation. The method singled out the xpt-pbuX operon as kinetically distinct, which was found to be caused by a guanine riboswitch whose regulation was overlaying the PurR regulation. Importantly, genes could be clustered according to regulatory mechanism and long-term consequences could be distinguished from transient changes – many of which would not be seen in a long-term adaptation to a new environment. The strategy outlined here can be adapted to analyse the individual effects of members from larger metabolomes in virtually any organism, for elucidating regulatory networks in vivo.
Microbiology-sgm, 2014, Vol 160, Issue 7, p. 1321-1331