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J Bacteriol. 1990 Dec;172(12):6749-58.

Novel two-component transmembrane transcription control: regulation of iron dicitrate transport in Escherichia coli K-12.

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  • 1Mikrobiologie II, Universität Tübingen, Federal Republic of Germany.


Citrate and iron have to enter only the periplasmic space in order to induce the citrate-dependent iron(III) transport system of Escherichia coli. The five transport genes fecABCDE form an operon and are transcribed from fecA to fecE. Two genes, termed fecI and fecR, that mediate induction by iron(III) dicitrate have been identified upstream of fecA. The fecI gene encodes a protein of 173 amino acids (molecular weight, 19,478); the fecR gene encodes a protein of 317 amino acids (molecular weight, 35,529). Chromosomal fecI::Mu d1 mutants were unable to grow with iron(III) dicitrate as the sole iron source and synthesized no FecA outer membrane receptor protein. Growth was restored by transformation with plasmids encoding fecI or fecI and fecR. FecA and beta-galactosidase syntheses under transcription control of the fecB gene (fecB::Mu d1) were constitutive in fecI transformants and were regulated by iron(III) dicitrate in fecI fecR transformants. The amino acid sequence of the FecI protein contains a region close to the carboxy-terminal end for which a helix-turn-helix motif is predicted, which is typical for DNA-binding regulatory proteins. The FecI protein was found in the membrane, and the FecR protein was found in the periplasmic fraction. It is proposed that the FecR protein is the sensor that recognizes iron(III) dicitrate in the periplasm. The FecI protein activates fec gene expression by binding to the fec operator region. In the absence of citrate, FecR inactivates FecI. The lack of sequence homologies to other transmembrane signaling proteins and the location of the two proteins suggest a new type of transmembrane control mechanism.

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