Laboratoire de Biologie végétale et Microbiologie, CNRS FRE2294, Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Faculté des Sciences, Parc Valrose, 06108 Nice Cédex 2, France
The symbiotic soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti has the capacity to synthesize the osmoprotectant glycine betaine from choline-O-sulfate and choline. This pathway is encoded by the betICBA locus, which comprises a regulatory gene, betI, and three structural genes, betC (choline sulfatase), betB (betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase), and betA (choline dehydrogenase). Here, we report that betICBA genes constitute a single operon, despite the existence of intergenic regions containing mosaic elements between betI and betC, and betB and betA. The regulation of the bet operon was investigated by using transcriptional lacZ (β-galactosidase) fusions and has revealed a strong induction by choline at concentrations as low as 25 μM and to a lesser extent by choline-O-sulfate and acetylcholine but not by osmotic stress or oxygen. BetI is a repressor of the bet transcription in the absence of choline, and a nucleotide sequence of dyad symmetry upstream of betI was identified as a putative betI box. Measurements of intracellular pools of choline, well correlated with β-galactosidase activities, strongly suggested that BetI senses the endogenous choline pool that modulates the intensity of BetI repression. In contrast to Escherichia coli, BetI did not repress choline transport. During symbiosis with Medicago sativa, S. meliloti bet gene expression was observed within the infection threads, in young and in mature nodules. The existence of free choline in nodule cytosol, peribacteroid space, and bacteroids was demonstrated, and the data suggest that bet regulation in planta is mediated by BetI repression, as in free-living cells. Neither Nod nor Fix phenotypes were significantly impaired in a betI∷Ω mutant, indicating that glycine betaine biosynthesis from choline is not crucial for nodulation and nitrogen fixation.