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J Mol Biol. 1992 Jan 5;223(1):41-54.

Mechanism of post-segregational killing by the hok/sok system of plasmid R1. Sok antisense RNA regulates hok gene expression indirectly through the overlapping mok gene.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Odense University, Denmark.


The hok/sok locus of plasmid R1, which mediates plasmid stabilization by killing of plasmid-free segregants, codes for two RNAs, Hok mRNA and Sok antisense RNA. Hok mRNA encodes the Hok killer protein of 52 amino acid residues. Expression of hok is regulated post-transcriptionally by Sok antisense RNA. Killing of plasmid-free daughter-cells by the hok/sok system is accomplished through differential decay of the Hok and Sok-RNAs: Hok mRNA is very stable while Sok-RNA decays rapidly, thus leading to derepression of Hok mRNA translation in plasmid-free segregants, ensuring a rapid and selective killing of these cells. Sok antisense RNA is complementary to the leader region of the Hok mRNA. However, the region of complementarity does not overlap with the hok Shine-Dalgarno sequence. Thus, Sok-RNA regulates hok translation indirectly by an as yet unknown mechanism. We show here that Sok antisense RNA regulates the translation of another reading frame located in the hok/sok locus. This new reading frame, which overlaps with almost the entire hok gene, was denoted mok (mediation of killing). Point-mutations that prevent mok translation through the hok translational initiation region abolish efficient expression of hok. Furthermore, these mutations abolish the Sok-RNA-mediated control of hok gene expression. Hence, the antisense-RNA-mediated regulation of the hok gene seems to occur via translational coupling between the hok and mok reading-frames.

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