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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Jul;45(1):191-202.

Activation of the Escherichia coli nfnB gene by MarA through a highly divergent marbox in a class II promoter.

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Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance and Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


MarA is a global regulator that mediates resistance to multiple environmental hazards such as antibiotics, disinfectants and oxidative stress agents by modulating the expression of a large number of genes in the Escherichia coli chromosome. Two E. coli MarA homologues, SoxS and Rob also control, to different extents, genes in the mar/sox/rob regulon. The controlling element for these proteins is a 20 bp 'marbox' sequence in the promoter region of regulated genes. Using in vitro assays and mutagenesis of promoter fusions in whole cells, we identified the cis regulatory element involved in MarA upregulation of the oxygen-insensitive nitroreductase nfnB gene. MarA binds to a marbox that is highly divergent from the previously proposed consensus (eight differences out of 14 specified nucleotides). Although purified SoxS and Rob proteins, like MarA, activated nfnB transcription in vitro, only constitutive expression of chromosomal marA, but not of soxS and rob genes, affected nfnB expression in whole cells. Increased expression, but limited as compared with MarA, was only achieved by plasmid-mediated overexpression of SoxS and Rob. This study shows that MarA can regulate gene expression through a functional marbox that is considerably divergent from the current consensus sequence. The data suggest that MarA is preferred over SoxS and Rob in upregulating nfnB. The findings imply that other different but physiologically important marbox DNA-MarA interactions take place in the regulation of still uncharacterized members of the mar regulon.

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