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J Bacteriol. 2007 May;189(10):3813-23. Epub 2007 Mar 9.

TraY and integration host factor oriT binding sites and F conjugal transfer: sequence variations, but not altered spacing, are tolerated.

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Department of Biology, The Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


Bacterial conjugation is the process by which a single strand of a conjugative plasmid is transferred from donor to recipient. For F plasmid, TraI, a relaxase or nickase, binds a single plasmid DNA strand at its specific origin of transfer (oriT) binding site, sbi, and cleaves at a site called nic. In vitro studies suggest TraI is recruited to sbi by its accessory proteins, TraY and integration host factor (IHF). TraY and IHF bind conserved oriT sites sbyA and ihfA, respectively, and bend DNA. The resulting conformational changes may propagate to nic, generating the single-stranded region that TraI can bind. Previous deletion studies performed by others showed transfer efficiency of a plasmid containing F oriT decreased progressively as increasingly longer segments, ultimately containing both sbyA and ihfA, were deleted. Here we describe our efforts to more precisely define the role of sbyA and ihfA by examining the effects of multiple base substitutions at sbyA and ihfA on binding and plasmid mobilization. While we observed significant decreases in in vitro DNA-binding affinities, we saw little effect on plasmid mobilization even when sbyA and ihfA variants were combined. In contrast, when half or full helical turns were inserted between the relaxosome protein-binding sites, mobilization was dramatically reduced, in some cases below the detectable limit of the assay. These results are consistent with TraY and IHF recognizing sbyA and ihfA with limited sequence specificity and with relaxosome proteins requiring proper spacing and orientation with respect to each other.

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