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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 20;109(12):4621-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1113113109. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

RelA protein stimulates the activity of RyhB small RNA by acting on RNA-binding protein Hfq.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem 91120, Israel.


The conserved RNA-binding protein Hfq and its associated small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are increasingly recognized as the players of a large network of posttranscriptional control of gene expression in Gram-negative bacteria. The role of Hfq in this network is to facilitate base pairing between sRNAs and their trans-encoded target mRNAs. Although the number of known sRNA-mRNA interactions has grown steadily, cellular factors that influence Hfq, the mediator of these interactions, have remained unknown. We report that RelA, a protein long known as the central regulator of the bacterial-stringent response, acts on Hfq and thereby affects the physiological activity of RyhB sRNA as a regulator of iron homeostasis. RyhB requires RelA in vivo to arrest growth during iron depletion and to down-regulate a subset of its target mRNAs (fdoG, nuoA, and sodA), whereas the sodB and sdhC targets are barely affected by RelA. In vitro studies with recombinant proteins show that RelA enhances multimerization of Hfq monomers and stimulates Hfq binding of RyhB and other sRNAs. Hfq from polysomes extracted from wild-type cells binds RyhB in vitro, whereas Hfq from polysomes of a relA mutant strain shows no binding. We propose that, by increasing the level of the hexameric form of Hfq, RelA enables binding of RNAs whose affinity for Hfq is low. Our results suggest that, under specific conditions and/or environments, Hfq concentrations are limiting for RNA binding, which thereby provides an opportunity for cellular proteins such as RelA to impact sRNA-mediated responses by modulating the activity of Hfq.

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