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EMBO J. 1998 Dec 1; 17(23): 7033–7043.
PMCID: PMC1171051

Thermoregulation of Shigella and Escherichia coli EIEC pathogenicity. A temperature-dependent structural transition of DNA modulates accessibility of virF promoter to transcriptional repressor H-NS.


The expression of plasmid-borne virF of Shigella encoding a transcriptional regulator of the AraC family, is required to initiate a cascade of events resulting in activation of several operons encoding invasion functions. H-NS, one of the main nucleoid-associated proteins, controls the temperature-dependent expression of the virulence genes by repressing the in vivo transcription of virF only below a critical temperature (approximately 32 degrees C). This temperature-dependent transcriptional regulation has been reproduced in vitro and the targets of H-NS on the virF promoter were identified as two sites centred around -250 and -1 separated by an intrinsic DNA curvature. H-NS bound cooperatively to these two sites below 32 degrees C, but not at 37 degrees C. DNA supercoiling within the virF promoter region did not influence H-NS binding but was necessary for the H-NS-mediated transcriptional repression. Electrophoretic analysis between 4 and 60 degrees C showed that the virF promoter fragment, comprising the two H-NS sites, undergoes a specific and temperature-dependent conformational transition at approximately 32 degrees C. Our results suggest that this modification of the DNA target may modulate a cooperative interaction between H-NS molecules bound at two distant sites in the virF promoter region and thus represents the physical basis for the H-NS-dependent thermoregulation of virulence gene expression.

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