Xiaochuan Zhao, Umar F. Shahul Hameed, Vladlena Kharchenko, Chenyi Liao, Franceline Huser, Jacob M. Remington, Anand K. Radhakrishnan, Mariusz Jaremko, Łukasz Jaremko, Stefan T. Arold, Jianing Lia
The DNA-binding protein H-NS is a pleiotropic gene regulator in gram-negative bacteria. Through its capacity to sense temperature and other environmental factors, H-NS allows pathogens like Salmonella to adapt their gene expression to their presence inside or outside warm-blooded hosts. To investigate how this sensing mechanism may have evolved to fit different bacterial lifestyles, we compared H-NS orthologs from bacteria that infect humans, plants, and insects, and from bacteria that live on a deep-sea hypothermal vent. The combination of biophysical characterization, high-resolution proton-less NMR spectroscopy and molecular simulations revealed, at an atomistic level, how the same general mechanism was adapted to specific habitats and lifestyles. In particular, we demonstrate how environment-sensing characteristics arise from specifically positioned intra- or intermolecular electrostatic interactions. Our integrative approach clarified the exact modus operandi for H-NS–mediated environmental sensing and suggests that this sensing mechanism resulted from the exaptation of an ancestral protein feature.