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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 May 26;95(11):6442-7.

Restriction-modification gene complexes as selfish gene entities: roles of a regulatory system in their establishment, maintenance, and apoptotic mutual exclusion.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, Shirokanedai, Tokyo 108-8639, Japan.


We have reported some type II restriction-modification (RM) gene complexes on plasmids resist displacement by an incompatible plasmid through postsegregational host killing. Such selfish behavior may have contributed to the spread and maintenance of RM systems. Here we analyze the role of regulatory genes (C), often found linked to RM gene complexes, in their interaction with the host and the other RM gene complexes. We identified the C gene of EcoRV as a positive regulator of restriction. A C mutation eliminated postsegregational killing by EcoRV. The C system has been proposed to allow establishment of RM systems in new hosts by delaying the appearance of restriction activity. Consistent with this proposal, bacteria preexpressing ecoRVC were transformed at a reduced efficiency by plasmids carrying the EcoRV RM gene complex. Cells carrying the BamHI RM gene complex were transformed at a reduced efficiency by a plasmid carrying a PvuII RM gene complex, which shares the same C specificity. The reduction most likely was caused by chromosome cleavage at unmodified PvuII sites by prematurely expressed PvuII restriction enzyme. Therefore, association of the C genes of the same specificity with RM gene complexes of different sequence specificities can confer on a resident RM gene complex the capacity to abort establishment of a second, incoming RM gene complex. This phenomenon, termed "apoptotic mutual exclusion," is reminiscent of suicidal defense against virus infection programmed by other selfish elements. pvuIIC and bamHIC genes define one incompatibility group of exclusion whereas ecoRVC gene defines another.

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