The sigma(s) subunit of RNA polymerase (encoded by the rpoS gene) is a master regulator in a complex regulatory network that governs the expression of many stationary-phase-induced and osmotically regulated genes in Escherichia coli. rpoS expression is itself osmotically regulated by a mechanism that operates at the posttranscriptional level. Cells growing at high osmolarity already exhibit increased levels of sigma(s) during the exponential phase of growth. Osmotic induction of rpoS can be triggered by addition of NaCl or sucrose and is alleviated by glycine betaine. Stimulation of rpoS translation and a change in the half-life of sigma(s) from 3 to 50 min both contribute to osmotic induction. Experiments with lacZ fusions inserted at different positions within the rpoS gene indicate that an element required for sigma(s) degradation is encoded between nucleotides 379 and 742 of the rpoS coding sequence.