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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Feb 6, 1996; 93(3): 1226–1231.

Isolation of an oxygen-sensitive FNR protein of Escherichia coli: interaction at activator and repressor sites of FNR-controlled genes.


The Escherichia coli fnr gene product, FNR, is a DNA binding protein that regulates a large family of genes involved in cellular respiration and carbon metabolism during conditions of anaerobic cell growth. FNR is believed to contain a redox/O2-sensitive element for detecting the anaerobic state. To investigate this process, a fnr mutant that encodes an altered FNR protein with three amino acid substitutions in the N-terminal domain was constructed by site-directed mutagenesis. In vivo, the mutant behaved like a wild-type strain under anaerobic conditions but had a 14-fold elevated level of transcriptional activation of a reporter gene during aerobic cell growth. The altered fur gene was overexpressed in E. coli and the resultant FNR protein was purified to near homogeneity by using anaerobic chromatography procedures. An in vitro Rsa I restriction site protection assay was developed that allowed for the assessment of oxygen-dependent DNA binding of the mutant FNR protein. The FNR protein was purified as a monomer of M(r) 28,000 that contained nonheme iron at 2.05 +/- 0.34 mol of Fe per FNR monomer. In vitro DNase I protection studies were performed to establish the locations of the FNR-binding sites at the narG, narK, dmsA, and hemA promoters that are regulated by either activation or repression of their transcription. The sizes of the DNA footprints are consistent with the binding of two monomers of FNR that protect the symmetrical FNR-recognition sequence TTGAT-nnnnATCAA. Exposure of the FNR protein or protein-DNA complex to air for even short periods of time (approximately 5 min) led to the complete loss of DNA protection at a consensus FNR recognition site. A model whereby the FNR protein exists in the cell as a monomer that assembles on the DNA under anaerobic conditions to form a dimer is discussed.

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