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Mol Microbiol. 2015 Jul;97(2):263-80. doi: 10.1111/mmi.13022. Epub 2015 May 15.

Zinc regulates a switch between primary and alternative S18 ribosomal proteins in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Boston Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Department of Microbiology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI.
Department of Pathology, Boston Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Center for Structural Biology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA.


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome encodes five putative 'alternative' ribosomal proteins whose expression is repressed at high Zn(2+) concentration. Each alternative protein has a primary homologue that is predicted to bind Zn(2+). We hypothesized that zinc triggers a switch between these paired homologous proteins and therefore chose one of these pairs, S18-1/S18-2, to study mechanisms of the predicted competition for their incorporation into ribosomes. Our data show that Zn(2+)-depletion causes accumulation of both S18-2 mRNA and protein. In contrast, S18-1 mRNA levels are unchanged to slightly elevated under Zn(2+)-limited conditions. However, the amount of S18-1 protein is markedly decreased. We further demonstrate that both S18 proteins interact with ribosomal protein S6, a committed step in ribosome biogenesis. Zn(2+) is absolutely required for the S18-1/S6 interaction while it is dispensable for S18-2/S6 dimer formation. These data suggest a model in which S18-1 is the dominant ribosome constituent in high zinc conditions, e.g. inside of phagosomes, but that it can be replaced by S18-2 when zinc is deficient, e.g. in the extracellular milieu. Consequently, Zn(2+)-depletion may serve as a signal for building alternative ribosomes when M. tuberculosis is released from macrophages, to allow survival in the extracellular environment.

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