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Annu Rev Genet. 2010;44:141-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-102209-163504.


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Institut Pasteur, Unité Plasticité du Génome Bactérien, Département Génomes et Génétique, F-75015 Paris, France.


Integrons are genetic elements able to acquire and rearrange open reading frames (ORFs) embedded in gene cassette units and convert them to functional genes by ensuring their correct expression. They were originally identified as a mechanism used by Gram-negative bacteria to collect antibiotic resistance genes and express multiple resistance phenotypes in synergy with transposons. More recently, their role has been broadened with the discovery of chromosomal integron (CI) structures in the genomes of hundreds of bacterial species. This review focuses on the resources carried in these elements, on their unique recombination mechanisms, and on the different mechanisms controlling the cassette dynamics. We discuss the role of the toxin/antitoxin (TA) cassettes for the stabilization of the large cassette arrays carried in the larger CIs, known as superintegrons. Finally, we explore the central role played by single-stranded DNA in the integron cassette dynamics in light of the recent discovery that the integron integrase expression is controlled by the SOS response.

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