Bacterial transcription during growth arrest

Megan Bergkessel (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
90 Downloads (Pure)


Bacteria in most natural environments spend substantial periods of time limited for essential nutrients and not actively dividing. While transcriptional activity under these conditions is substantially reduced compared to that occurring during active growth, observations from diverse organisms and experimental approaches have shown that new transcription still occurs and is important for survival. Much of our understanding of transcription regulation has come from measuring transcripts in exponentially growing cells, or from in vitro experiments focused on transcription from highly active promoters by the housekeeping RNA polymerase holoenzyme. The fact that transcription during growth arrest occurs at low levels and is highly heterogeneous has posed challenges for its study. However, new methods of measuring low levels of gene expression activity, even in single cells, offer exciting opportunities for directly investigating transcriptional activity and its regulation during growth arrest. Furthermore, much of the rich structural and biochemical data from decades of work on the bacterial transcriptional machinery is also relevant to growth arrest. In this review, the physiological changes likely affecting transcription during growth arrest are first considered. Next, possible adaptations to help facilitate ongoing transcription during growth arrest are discussed. Finally, new insights from several recently published datasets investigating mRNA transcripts in single bacterial cells at various growth phases will be explored. Keywords: Growth arrest, stationary phase, RNA polymerase, nucleoid condensation, population heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-249
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Early online date6 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Growth arrest
  • stationary phase
  • RNA polymerase
  • nucleoid condensation
  • population heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology


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