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Annu Rev Genet. 1997;31:1-31.

Antisense RNA-regulated programmed cell death.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Odense University, Denmark.


Eubacterial plasmids and chromosomes encode multiple killer genes belonging to the hok gene family. The plasmid-encoded killer genes mediate plasmid stabilization by killing plasmid-free cells. This review describes the genetics, molecular biology, and evolution of the hok gene family. The complicated antisense RNA-regulated control-loop that regulates posttranscriptional and postsegregational activation of killer mRNA translation in plasmid-free cells is described in detail. Nucleotide covariations in the mRNAs reveal metastable stem-loop structures that are formed at the mRNA 5' ends in the nascent transcripts. The metastable structures prevent translation and antisense RNA binding during transcription. Coupled nucleotide covariations provide evidence for a phylogenetically conserved mRNA folding pathway that involves sequential dynamic RNA rearrangements. Our analyses have elucidated an intricate mechanism by which translation of an antisense RNA-regulated mRNA can be conditionally activated. The complex phylogenetic relationships of the plasmid- and chromosome-encoded systems are also presented and discussed.

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