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J Biol Chem. 2000 Mar 17;275(11):7713-22.

The antiactivator TraM interferes with the autoinducer-dependent binding of TraR to DNA by interacting with the C-terminal region of the quorum-sensing activator.

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  • 1Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


Conjugal transfer of Agrobacterium tumefaciens Ti plasmids is regulated by quorum sensing via the transcriptional activator TraR and the acyl-homoserine lactone Agrobacterium autoinducer (AAI). Unique to this system, the activity of TraR is negatively modulated by an antiactivator called TraM. Analyses from yeast two-hybrid studies suggest that TraM directly interacts with the activator, but the conditions under which these components interact and the region of TraR responsible for this interaction are not known. Induction of traM in a strain in which TraR was activating transcription of a reporter system led to rapid cessation of gene expression. As assessed by a genetic assay that measures AAI-dependent DNA binding, TraM inhibited TraR function before and after the transcription factor had bound to its DNA recognition site. Consistent with this observation, in gel retardation assays, purified TraM abolished the DNA binding activity of TraR in a concentration-dependent manner. Such inhibition occurred independent of the order of addition of the reactants. As assessed by far Western analyses TraM interacts with TraR by directly binding the activator. TraM in its native form interacted with native TraR and also with heat-treated TraR but only when SDS was included with the denatured protein. TraM interacted with TraR on blots prepared with total lysates of cells grown in the presence and absence of AAI. Far Western analysis of N- and C-terminal deletion mutants localized a domain of TraR contributing to TraM binding to the C-terminal portion of the activator protein. Random mutagenesis by hydroxylamine treatment and error-prone polymerase chain reaction identified several residues in this region of TraR important for interacting with TraM as well as for transcriptional activation or/and DNA binding. We conclude that TraM inhibits TraR by binding to the activator at a domain within or close to the helix-turn-helix motif located at the C terminus of the protein.

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