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Nucleic Acids Res. 2006;34(21):6102-15. Epub 2006 Oct 29.

Keeping signals straight in transcription regulation: specificity determinants for the interaction of a family of conserved bacterial RNA-protein couples.

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Department of General Microbiology, Institute of Microbiology and Genetics, Georg-August University, Göttingen Germany.


Regulatory systems often evolve by duplication of ancestral systems and subsequent specialization of the components of the novel signal transduction systems. In the Gram-positive soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis, four homologous antitermination systems control the expression of genes involved in the metabolism of glucose, sucrose and beta-glucosides. Each of these systems is made up of a sensory sugar permease that does also act as phosphotransferase, an antitermination protein, and a RNA switch that is composed of two mutually exclusive structures, a RNA antiterminator (RAT) and a transcriptional terminator. We have studied the contributions of sugar specificity of the permeases, carbon catabolite repression, and protein-RAT recognition for the straightness of the signalling chains. We found that the beta-glucoside permease BglP does also have a minor activity in glucose transport. However, this activity is irrelevant under physiological conditions since carbon catabolite repression in the presence of glucose prevents the synthesis of the beta-glucoside permease. Reporter gene studies, in vitro RNA-protein interaction analyzes and northern blot transcript analyzes revealed that the interactions between the antiterminator proteins and their RNA targets are the major factor contributing to regulatory specificity. Both structural features in the RATs and individual bases are important specificity determinants. Our study revealed that the specificity of protein-RNA interactions, substrate specificity of the permeases as well as the general mechanism of carbon catabolite repression together allow to keep the signalling chains straight and to avoid excessive cross-talk between the systems.

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