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Crit Rev Microbiol. 2012 Nov;38(4):276-99. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2012.664540. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

The bacterial protein Hfq: much more than a mere RNA-binding factor.

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  • 1Departamento de Ciencia y Tecnología, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Roque Saenz Peña, Bernal, Argentina.


Most of the sequenced bacterial genomes contain a gene encoding a protein known as Hfq that resembles the eukaryotic RNA-binding proteins of the LSm family. It was originally identified in Escherichia coli as a host factor required for replication of the Qβ RNA phage. In this review, we present a comprehensive summary of 40 years of investigation to learn that Hfq is an influential, though not essential, global regulator of gene expression in bacteria and that this feature is undoubtedly linked to Hfq's RNA-binding properties. This protein intervenes in different RNA transactions, notably the promotion of antisense interactions between messenger RNAs and small regulatory RNAs. Yet, several aspects of its molecular mechanism remain not understood. In addition, mechanistic studies have been exclusively carried out in enterobacterial models, highlighting the need to expand the research on Hfq function to other taxons. Upon reviewing the genetic, structural, biochemical, and biological aspects of this extraordinary protein, we discuss recent findings on interactions with macromolecules other than RNA suggesting a broader participation of Hfq in major steps in the flow of genetic information. We show that, although significant progress has been achieved to elucidate Hfq role at the molecular level, many open questions remain.

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