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Mol Microbiol. 2000 Aug;37(3):492-500.

Plasmid copy number control: an ever-growing story.

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  • 1Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, CSIC, Velázquez, 144, E-28006 Madrid, Spain.


Bacterial plasmids maintain their number of copies by negative regulatory systems that adjust the rate of replication per plasmid copy in response to fluctuations in the copy number. Three general classes of regulatory mechanisms have been studied in depth, namely those that involve directly repeated sequences (iterons), those that use only antisense RNAs and those that use a mechanism involving an antisense RNA in combination with a protein. The first class of control mechanism will not be discussed here. Within the second class (the most 'classical' one), exciting insights have been obtained on the molecular basis of the inhibition mechanism that prevents the formation of a long-range RNA structure (pseudoknot), which is an example of an elegant solution reached by some replicons to control their copy number. Among the third class, it is possible to distinguish between (i) cases in which proteins play an auxiliary role; and (ii) cases in which transcriptional repressor proteins play a real regulatory role. This latter type of regulation is relatively new and seems to be widespread among plasmids from Gram-positive bacteria, at least for the rolling circle-replicating plasmids of the pMV158 family and the theta-replicating plasmids of the Inc18 streptococcal family.

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