Background: The SOS response is a well-known regulatory network present in most bacteria and aimed at addressing DNA damage. It has also been linked extensively to stress-induced mutagenesis, virulence and the emergence and dissemination of antibiotic resistance determinants. Recently, the SOS response has been shown to regulate the activity of integrases in the chromosomal superintegrons of the Vibrionaceae, which encompasses a wide range of pathogenic species harboring multiple chromosomes. Here we combine in silico and in vitro techniques to perform a comparative genomics analysis of the SOS regulon in the Vibrionaceae, and we extend the methodology to map this transcriptional network in other bacterial species harboring multiple chromosomes.Results: Our analysis provides the first comprehensive description of the SOS response in a family (Vibrionaceae) that includes major human pathogens. It also identifies several previously unreported members of the SOS transcriptional network, including two proteins of unknown function. The analysis of the SOS response in other bacterial species with multiple chromosomes uncovers additional regulon members and reveals that there is a conserved core of SOS genes, and that specialized additions to this basic network take place in different phylogenetic groups. Our results also indicate that across all groups the main elements of the SOS response are always found in the large chromosome, whereas specialized additions are found in the smaller chromosomes and plasmids.Conclusions: Our findings confirm that the SOS response of the Vibrionaceae is strongly linked with pathogenicity and dissemination of antibiotic resistance, and suggest that the characterization of the newly identified members of this regulon could provide key insights into the pathogenesis of Vibrio. The persistent location of key SOS genes in the large chromosome across several bacterial groups confirms that the SOS response plays an essential role in these organisms and sheds light into the mechanisms of evolution of global transcriptional networks involved in adaptability and rapid response to environmental changes, suggesting that small chromosomes may act as evolutionary test beds for the rewiring of transcriptional networks. © 2012 Sanchez-Alberola et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.