In the absence of oxygen, many bacteria preferentially use nitrate as a terminal electron acceptor for anaerobic respiration. In
Escherichia coli, there are two membrane‐bound, differentially regulated nitrate reductases. While the physiological basis for this metabolic redundancy is not completely understood, during exponential growth, synthesis of NRA is greatly induced by anaerobiosis plus nitrate, whereas NRZ is expressed at a low level that is not influenced by anaerobiosis or nitrate. In the course of identifying genes controlled by the stationary phase regulatory factor RpoS (σs), we found that the expression of NRZ is induced during entry into stationary phase and highly dependent on this alternative sigma factor. Expression studies, using operon fusions and nitrate reductase assays, revealed that the NRZ operon is controlled mainly at the level of transcription and is induced 10‐fold at the onset of stationary phase in rich media. Consistent with previous reports of RpoS expression, the RpoS dependency of NRZ in minimal media was very high (several hundredfold). We also observed a fivefold stationary phase induction of NRZ in an rpoSbackground, indicating that other regulatory factors, besides RpoS, are probably involved in transcriptional control of NRZ. The RpoS dependence of NRZ expression was confirmed by Northern analyses using RNA extracted from wild‐type and rpoS− strains sampled in exponential and stationary phase. In toto, these data indicate that RpoS‐mediated regulation of NRZ may be an important physiological adaptation that allows the cell to use nitrate under stress‐associated conditions.