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Nucleic Acids Res. 2007;35(18):6330-7. Epub 2007 Sep 18.

High-affinity DNA binding sites for H-NS provide a molecular basis for selective silencing within proteobacterial genomes.

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, UK.


The global transcriptional regulator H-NS selectively silences bacterial genes associated with pathogenicity and responses to environmental insults. Although there is ample evidence that H-NS binds preferentially to DNA containing curved regions, we show here that a major basis for this selectivity is the presence of a conserved sequence motif in H-NS target transcriptons. We further show that there is a strong tendency for the H-NS binding sites to be clustered, both within operons and in genes contained in the pathogenicity-associated islands. In accordance with previously published findings, we show that these motifs occur in AT-rich regions of DNA. On the basis of these observations, we propose that H-NS silences extensive regions of the bacterial chromosome by binding first to nucleating high-affinity sites and then spreading along AT-rich DNA. This spreading would be reinforced by the frequent occurrence of the motif in such regions. Our findings suggest that such an organization enables the silencing of extensive regions of the genetic material, thereby providing a coherent framework that unifies studies on the H-NS protein and a concrete molecular basis for the genetic control of H-NS transcriptional silencing.

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