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Mol Cell. 2010 Jan 15;37(1):21-33. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2009.11.033.

The cspA mRNA is a thermosensor that modulates translation of the cold-shock protein CspA.

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Laboratory of Genetics, Department of Biology MCA, University of Camerino, 62032 Camerino (MC), Italy.


Cold induction of cspA, the paradigm Escherichia coli cold-shock gene, is mainly subject to posttranscriptional control, partly promoted by cis-acting elements of its transcript, whose secondary structure at 37 degrees C and at cold-shock temperature has been elucidated here by enzymatic and chemical probing. The structures, which were also validated by mutagenesis, demonstrate that cspA mRNA undergoes a temperature-dependent structural rearrangement, likely resulting from stabilization in the cold of an otherwise thermodynamically unstable folding intermediate. At low temperature, the "cold-shock" structure is more efficiently translated and somewhat less susceptible to degradation than the 37 degrees C structure. Overall, our data shed light on a molecular mechanism at the basis of the cold-shock response, indicating that cspA mRNA is able to sense temperature downshifts, adopting functionally distinct structures at different temperatures, even without the aid of trans-acting factors. Unlike with other previously studied RNA thermometers, these structural rearrangements do not result from melting of hairpin structures.

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