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J Bacteriol. 1987 Oct; 169(10): 4499–4506.
PMCID: PMC213814

Changes in the linking number of supercoiled DNA accompany growth transitions in Escherichia coli.


The supercoiling levels of plasmid DNA were determined from Escherichia coli which was grown in ways that are known to alter global patterns of gene expression and metabolism. Changes in DNA supercoiling were shown to occur during several types of these nutrient upshifts and downshifts. The most dramatic change in supercoiling was seen in starved cells, in which two populations of differentially relaxed plasmids were shown to coexist. Thus, some changes in the external nutritional environment that cause the cells to reorganize their global metabolism also cause accompanying changes in DNA supercoiling. Results of experiments with dinitrophenol suggested that the observed relaxations were probably not due to reduced pools of ATP. When rifampin was used to release supercoils restrained by RNA polymerase, the cellular topoisomerases responded by removing these new, unrestrained supercoils. We interpret these results as implying that the cellular topological machinery maintains a constant superhelical energy in the DNA except during certain growth transitions, when changes in metabolism and gene expression are accompanied by changes in DNA supercoiling.

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