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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1996 Jun 7;1307(2):162-70.

The promoter-proximal, unstable IB region of the atp mRNA of Escherichia coli: an independently degraded region that can act as a destabilizing element.

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  • 1Department of Gene Expression, National Biotechnology Research Centre (GBF), Braunschweig, Germany.


Differential expression of the genes in the Escherichia coli atp (unc) operon is achieved via control of the translational initiation, translational coupling and mRNA stability of the respective genes. The atpIB region of the polycistronic mRNA is less stable than the remaining seven genes. We have investigated the functional half-lives of the atp genes in reconstructed versions of the operon. In order to be able to do this reliably, we have readdressed the interpretation of the complex functional inactivation data obtained by means of transcriptional inhibition using rifampicin. Our results indicate the usable information to be gleaned from this commonly applied technique, while identifying the potential errors in their quantitative interpretation. We estimate that the functional half-life of atpB is slightly over one-half that of atpE and the other atp genes, while atpI is at least two times less stable than atpB. The instability of the atpI mRNA was also demonstrated by its rapid fragmentation. Relocation of atpIB to a position in the promoter-distal region of the operon between atpG and atpD did not change the inactivation rate of atpB. However, it did destabilize the atpG mRNA. Examination of the physical degradation of atpI mRNA shows particularly rapid cleavage in this gene, thus explaining the destabilization effect. The atpIB segment is therefore an autonomously unstable region that can act as a destabilizing element for upstream-located genes in a polycistronic environment.

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