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Biochemistry. 1989 Mar 7;28(5):2340-4.

Transcriptional switching by the MerR protein: activation and repression mutants implicate distinct DNA and mercury(II) binding domains.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Bacterial resistance to mercuric compounds is controlled by the MerR metalloregulatory protein. The MerR protein functions as both a transcriptional repressor and a mercuric ion dependent transcriptional activator. Chemical mutagenesis of the cloned merR structural gene has led to the identification of mutant proteins that are specifically deficient in transcriptional repression, activation, or both. Five mutant proteins have been overproduced, purified to homogeneity, and assayed for ability to dimerize, bind mer operator DNA, and bind mercuric ion. A mutation in the recognition helix of a proposed helix-turn-helix DNA binding motif (E22K) yields protein deficient in both activation and repression in vivo (a-r-) and deficient in operator binding in vitro. In contrast, mutations in three of the four MerR cysteine residues are repression competent but activation deficient (a-r+) in vivo. In vitro, the purified cysteine mutant proteins bind to the mer operator site with near wild-type affinity but are variably deficient in binding the in vivo inducer mercury(II) ion. A subset of the isolated proteins also appears compromised in their ability to form dimers at low protein concentrations. These data, taken with the results in the preceding paper (Shewchuk et al., 1989), support a model in which DNA-bound MerR dimer binds one mercuric ion and transmits this occupancy information to a protein region involved in transcriptional activation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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