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Recent evidence indicates that potential interactions within metabolic, protein-protein interaction, and transcriptional regulatory networks are used differentially according to the environmental conditions in which a cell exists. However, the topological units underlying such differential utilization are not understood. Here we use the transcriptional regulatory network of Escherichia coli to identify such units, called origons, representing regulatory subnetworks that originate at a distinct class of sensor transcription factors. Using microarray data, we find that specific environmental signals affect mRNA expression levels significantly only within the origons responsible for their detection and processing. We also show that small regulatory interaction patterns, called subgraphs and motifs, occupy distinct positions in and between origons, offering insights into their dynamical role in information processing. The identified features are likely to represent a general framework for environmental signal processing in prokaryotes.