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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 27;109(13):E757-64. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1119414109. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

The ancestral SgrS RNA discriminates horizontally acquired Salmonella mRNAs through a single G-U wobble pair.

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RNA Biology Group, Institute for Molecular Infection Biology, University of Würzburg, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany.


SgrS RNA is a model for the large class of Hfq-associated small RNAs that act to posttranscriptionally regulate bacterial mRNAs. The function of SgrS is well-characterized in nonpathogenic Escherichia coli, where it was originally shown to counteract glucose-phosphate stress by acting as a repressor of the ptsG mRNA, which encodes the major glucose transporter. We have discovered additional SgrS targets in Salmonella Typhimurium, a pathogen related to E. coli that recently acquired one-quarter of all genes by horizontal gene transfer. We show that the conserved short seed region of SgrS that recognizes ptsG was recruited to target the Salmonella-specific sopD mRNA of a secreted virulence protein. The SgrS-sopD interaction is exceptionally selective; we find that sopD2 mRNA, whose gene arose from sopD duplication during Salmonella evolution, is deaf to SgrS because of a nonproductive G-U pair in the potential SgrS-sopD2 RNA duplex vs. G-C in SgrS-sopD. In other words, SgrS discriminates the two virulence factor mRNAs at the level of a single hydrogen bond. Our study suggests that bacterial pathogens use their large suites of conserved Hfq-associated regulators to integrate horizontally acquired genes into existing posttranscriptional networks, just as conserved transcription factors are recruited to tame foreign genes at the DNA level. The results graphically illustrate the importance of the seed regions of bacterial small RNAs to select new targets with high fidelity and suggest that target predictions must consider all or none decisions by individual seed nucleotides.

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