The H-NS (heat-stable nucleoid structuring) protein affects both nucleoid compaction and global gene regulation. H-NS appears to act primarily as a silencer of AT-rich genetic material acquired by horizontal gene transfer. As such, it is key in the regulation of most genes involved in virulence and in adaptation to new environmental niches. Here we review recent progress in understanding the biochemistry of H-NS and how xenogeneic silencing affects bacterial evolution. We highlight the strengths and weaknesses of some of the models proposed in H-NS-mediated nucleoprotein complex formation. Based on recent single-molecule studies, we also propose a novel mode of DNA compaction by H-NS termed intrabridging to explain over two decades of observations of the H-NS molecule.


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