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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Feb 6;93(3):1173-7.

Transcriptional activation by protein-induced DNA bending: evidence for a DNA structural transmission model.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, 92717, USA.


Integration host factor (IHF) is a DNA-bending protein that binds to an upstream activating sequence (UAS1) and, on a negatively supercoiled DNA template, activates transcription from the ilvPG promoter of the ilvG-MEDA operon of Escherichia coli. The transcriptional initiation site of the ilvGMEDA operon is located 92 bp downstream of UAS1. Activation is still observed when the orientation of the upstream IHF binding site is reversed. This manipulation places the IHF binding site on the opposite face of the DNA helix, directs the IHF-induced DNA bend in the opposite direction, and presents the opposite face of the nonsymmetrical, heterodimeric, IHF molecule to the downstream RNA polymerase. Lymphoid enhancer-binding factor, LEF-1, is a DNA-bending, lymphoid-specific, mammalian transcription factor that shares no amino acid sequence similarity with IHF. When the IHF site in UAS1 is replaced with a LEF-1 site, LEF-1 activates transcription from the downstream ilvPG promoter in E. coli as well as it is activated by its natural activator, IHF. These results suggest that specific interactions between IHF and RNA polymerase are not required for activation. The results of DNA structural studies show that IHF forms a protein-DNA complex in the UAS1 region that, in the absence of RNA polymerase, alters the structure of the DNA helix in the -10 hexanucleotide region of the downstream ilvPG promoter. The results of in vitro abortive transcription assays show that IIIF also increases the apparent rate of RNA polymerase isomerization from a closed to an open complex. We suggest, therefore, that IHF activates transcription by forming a higher-order protein-DNA complex in the UAS1 region that structurally alters the DNA helix in a way that facilitates open complex formation at the downstream ilvPG promoter site.

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