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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1974 Dec;71(12):4808-12.

Non-specific DNA binding of genome regulating proteins as a biological control mechanism: I. The lac operon: equilibrium aspects.


The regulatory system of the lactose operon has been "modeled" by a set of mass action equations and conservation constraints which describe the system at equilibrium. A "base-set" of values of binding constants and total component concentrations has been assembled from the available experimental data, and the simultaneous equations solved by computer procedures, to yield equilibrium concentrations of all the relevant molecular species. Considering the operator-repressor-inducer system alone, it is shown that the in vivo basal and induced (derepressed) levels of lac enzyme synthesis in both wild-type and certain mutant Escherichia coli can be accounted for only if binding of repressor and repressor-inducer complexes to non-specific DNA sites is included in the calculations as an integral component of the ovrall control system. A similar approach was applied to the RNA polymerase-promoter system to show that sigma factor may modulate the general level of transcription in the cell by "inducing" polymerase off non-specific DNA binding sites, thus making it available to promoters. Competitive and non-competitive models for the interaction of repressor and polymerase at the lac operon can, in principle, be distinguished by these computational procedures, though data sufficient to permit unambiguous differentiation between the models are not available at this time. However, for any competitive binding model the results show that repression in the entire (operator-repressor-RNA polymerase-lac promoter) system can occur only because non-specific binding of the regulatory proteins reduces the concentration of free polymerase, relative to that of repressor, to appropriate levels.

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