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Mol Microbiol. 1992 Jul;6(14):1861-6.

DNA twist as a transcriptional sensor for environmental changes.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis 95616.


A variety of reports describe shifts in the environment which cause a corresponding change in the measured linking number of plasmid DNA isolated from bacterial cells. This change in linking number is often attributed to a change in superhelical density. This, coupled with the observation that transcription is often dependent upon the superhelical density of the DNA template seen in vitro, has led to the suggestion that superhelical density may control expression of certain genes. However, since many environmental changes could, in principle, influence DNA twist itself, then the measured differences in linking number, delta Lk, may simply be a consequence of variation in twist according to the relationship delta Lk = delta Tw + delta Wr, where delta Tw and delta Wr are changes in twist and writhe, respectively. In fact, we show that when an environmental change causes a change in the helical pitch of the DNA, and if the superhelical density of DNA is regulated to remain constant according to the homeostatic model of Menzel and Gellert, then delta Lk approximately delta Tw. We have found that there are a number of published reports describing variation in promoter activity as a function of linking number that can be explained by considering twist. We suggest that there are classes of sigma 70 promoters whose ability to be recognized by RNA polymerase is exquisitely sensitive to the relative orientation of the -35 and -10 regions, and environmental conditions can control this relative orientation by changing DNA twist.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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