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Mol Microbiol. 1999 Oct;34(2):282-94.

Modulating quorum sensing by antiactivation: TraM interacts with TraR to inhibit activation of Ti plasmid conjugal transfer genes.

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Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 240 ERML, 1201 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


Conjugal transfer of the Ti plasmid pTiC58 is regulated by a quorum-sensing system involving the transcriptional activator TraR and the acyl homoserine lactone autoinducer N-(3-oxo-octanoyl)-L-homoserine lactone (AAI). Activation of tra gene expression by TraR and AAI is inhibited by TraM, an 11 kDa protein also coded for by the Ti plasmid. Previous studies suggested that TraM interferes with TraR activity by directly interacting with the activator protein. Using the yeast two-hybrid system, constructs of Saccharomyces cerevisiae containing a fusion of traR to the B42 domain of the prey plasmid pJG4.5 and a fusion of traM to the lexA gene of the bait plasmid pEG202 produced beta-galactosidase and grew on medium lacking leucine, both phenotypes indicative of an interaction between the two proteins. Early termination mutants and substitution mutants mapping to the C-terminus of TraM were isolated by screening for alleles unable to interfere with TraR activity in Agrobacterium tumefaciens. These mutants all failed to interact with the TraR fusion in the two-hybrid system. An N-terminal deletion mutant of TraM lacking the first 27 residues weakly interacted with TraR in the two-hybrid system whereas deletions of 48 amino acids or more abolished the interaction. As assessed by Western blot analysis, the mutant fusion proteins were produced at levels indistinguishable from that of the wild-type TraM in the yeast tester strain. Mutants of TraR that were not inhibited by TraM in A. tumefaciens were isolated and fell into two classes. In the first, the mutation resulted in increased expression of wild-type TraR. In the second, a proline residue at position 176 was changed to serine (P176 --> S) or to leucine (P176 --> L). The P176 --> S mutant interacted with wild-type TraM, but at a detectably lower level, in the two-hybrid assay. Mutants of TraR with N-terminal deletions as large as 105 amino acids interfered with the ability of TraM to inhibit wild-type TraR in A. tumefaciens. Two-hybrid assays indicated that these mutants, as well as a C-terminal 49 residue fragment of TraR, can interact with TraM. We conclude that TraM and TraR interact in vivo and that this interaction is responsible for inhibition of TraR-mediated activation. We also conclude that the two proteins interact with each other through domains located at their respective C-termini.

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