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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Mar 8;291(4):979-86.

Evidence for "pre-recruitment" as a new mechanism of transcription activation in Escherichia coli: the large excess of SoxS binding sites per cell relative to the number of SoxS molecules per cell.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland 21250, USA.

Erratum in

  • Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2002 Jun 28;294(5):1191.


In response to the oxidative stress imposed by redox-cycling compounds like paraquat, Escherichia coli induces the synthesis of SoxS, which then activates the transcription of approximately 100 genes. The DNA binding site for SoxS-dependent transcription activation, the "soxbox," is highly degenerate, suggesting that the genome contains a large number of SoxS binding sites. To estimate the number of soxboxes in the cell, we searched the E. coli genome for SoxS binding sites using as query sequence the previously determined optimal SoxS binding sequence. We found approximately 12,500 sequences that match the optimal binding sequence under the conditions of our search; this agrees with our previous estimate, based on information theory, that a random sequence the size of the E. coli genome contains approximately 13,000 soxboxes. Thus, fast-growing cells with 4-6 genomes per cell have approximately 65,000 soxboxes. This large number of potential SoxS binding sites per cell raises the interesting question of how SoxS distinguishes between the functional soxboxes located within the promoters of target genes and the plethora of equivalent but nonfunctional binding sites scattered throughout the chromosome. To address this question, we treated cells with paraquat and used Western blot analysis to determine the kinetics of SoxS accumulation per cell; we also determined the kinetics of SoxS-activated gene expression. The abundance of SoxS reached a maximum of 2,500 molecules per cell 20 min after induction and gradually declined to approximately 500 molecules per cell over the next 1.5 h. Given that activation of target gene expression began almost immediately and given the large disparity between the number of SoxS molecules per cell, 2,500, and the number of SoxS binding sites per cell, 65,000, we infer that SoxS is not likely to activate transcription by the usual "recruitment" pathway, as this mechanism would require a number of SoxS molecules similar to the number of soxboxes. Instead, we propose that SoxS first interacts in solution with RNA polymerase and then the binary complex scans the chromosome for promoters that contain a soxbox properly positioned and oriented for transcription activation. We name this new pathway "pre-recruitment."

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