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J Mol Biol. 1983 Jan 25;163(3):377-94.

Transcription attenuation is the major mechanism by which the leu operon of Salmonella typhimurium is controlled.


Three mutations, each causing constitutive expression of the Salmonella typhimurium leu operon, were cloned into phage vector lambda gt4 on EcoRI DNA fragments carrying all of that operon except for part of the promoter-distal last gene. Sequence analysis of DNA from these phage demonstrated that each contains a single base change in the leu attenuator. Transcription of mutant DNA in vitro resulted in transcription beyond the usual site of termination. The level of beta-IPM dehydrogenase, the leuB enzyme, was elevated 40-fold in a strain carrying one of these mutations, and starvation of this strain for leucine had little effect on the amount of activity expressed. Using a strain with a wild-type promoter-leader region of the leu operon, the rates of synthesis and degradation of leu leader RNA and readthrough RNA (leu mRNA) were measured by DNA-RNA hybridizations with specific DNA probes. The rate of synthesis of the leu leader was about the same in cells grown with excess or with limiting leucine. On the other hand, the rate of synthesis of leu mRNA was 12-fold higher for cells grown in limiting leucine as opposed to excess leucine. The rate of degradation of these RNA species was the same under both conditions of growth. Thus, the variation in expression of the leu operon observed for cells grown in minimal medium is, for the most part, not caused by control over the frequency of initiation or by the differential stability of these RNA species. Rather, the variation is a direct result of the frequency of transcription termination at an attenuator site. These results taken together suggest that transcription attenuation is the major mechanism by which leucine regulates expression of the leu operon of S. typhimurium for cells growing in a minimal medium.

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