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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Oct;46(1):135-45.

Activation of a p44 pseudogene in Anaplasma phagocytophila by bacterial RNA splicing: a novel mechanism for post-transcriptional regulation of a multigene family encoding immunodominant major outer membrane proteins.

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Department of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, 1925 Coffey Road, 43210-1093, USA.


Immunodominant 44 kDa major outer membrane proteins of Anaplasma phagocytophila (human granulocytic ehrlichiosis agent) are encoded by the p44 multigene family. One of the paralogues, p44-18 is predominantly expressed by A. phagocytophila in mammalian hosts, but is downregulated in the arthropod vector. The expression of p44-18 was upregulated in A. phagocytophila cultivated in HL-60 cells at 37 degrees C compared with 24 degrees C. However, the molecular mechanism of such gene expression was unclear, as p44-18 has a pseudogene-like structure, i.e. it lacks an AUG start codon and is out of frame with an upstream overlapping paralogue, p44-1. In the present study, we found that an amplicon detected by reverse transciption-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) [808 basepair (bp)] for the p44-1/p44-18 gene locus was smaller than that detected by PCR with the genomic DNA (1652 bp) in the A. phagocytophila-infected HL-60 cells cultured at 37 degrees C. A circularized RNA molecule corresponding to the 844 bp region missing from the locus in the RT-PCR product was detected by inverse RT-PCR, indicating that this is an intron (designated p44-1 intervening sequence, p44-1 IVS). The splicing event of p44-1 IVS was also observed when the p44-1 IVS-carrying plasmid was introduced into Escherichia coli, suggesting that the splicing is sequence-dependent. Structural analysis and in vitro splicing experiments of p44-1 IVS suggested that this is likely to represent a new class of introns in eubacteria. The primer extension analysis showed the presence of a putative sigma(32)-type promoter in region upstream from p44-1. Collectively, the novel RNA splicing and the temperature-dependent transcription may account for the dominant p44-18 expression in mammals.

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