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J Mol Biol. 1995 Oct 20;253(2):277-90.

Stabilised secondary structure at a ribosomal binding site enhances translational repression in E. coli.

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Institut de Biologie, Physico-Chimique, Paris, France.


The expression of the gene encoding Escherichia coli threonyl-tRNA synthetase is negatively autoregulated at the translational level. The negative feedback is due to the binding of the synthetase to an operator site on its own mRNA located upstream of the initiation codon. The present work describes the characterisation of operator mutants that have the rare property of enhancing repression. These mutations cause (1) a low basal level of expression, (2) a temperature-dependent expression, and (3) an increased capacity of the synthetase to repress its own expression at low temperature. Surprisingly, this enhancement of repression is not explained by an increase of affinity of the mutant operators for the enzyme but by the formation, at low temperature, of a few supplementary base-pairs between the ribosomal binding site and a normally single-stranded domain of the operator. Although this additional base-pairing only slightly inhibits ribosome binding in the absence of repressor, simple thermodynamic considerations indicate that this is sufficient to increase repression. This increase is explained by the competition between the ribosome and repressor for overlapping regions of the mRNA. When the ribosomal binding site is base-paired, the ribosome cannot bind while the repressor can, giving the repressor the advantage in the competition. Thus, the existence of an open versus base-paired equilibrium in a ribosomal binding site of a translational operator amplifies the magnitude of control. This molecular amplification device might be an essential component of translational control considering the low free repressor/ribosome ratio of the low affinity of translational repressors for their target operators.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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