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J Bacteriol. 1993 Oct;175(19):6142-9.

Transcriptional control of the invasion regulatory gene virB of Shigella flexneri: activation by virF and repression by H-NS.

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Department of Bacteriology, University of Tokyo, Japan.


Expression of invasion genes encoded by the large 230-kb plasmid of Shigella flexneri is controlled by the virB gene, which is itself activated by another regulator, virF. Transcription of the invasion genes is temperature regulated, since they are activated in bacteria grown at 37 but not at 30 degrees C. Recently, we have shown that the thermoregulated expression of invasion genes is mediated by thermal activation of virB transcription (T. Tobe, S. Nagai, B. Adler, M. Yoshikawa, and C. Sasakawa, Mol. Microbiol. 5:887-893, 1991). It has also been shown that a mutation that inactivates H-NS, the product of virR (hns), derepresses transcription of virB. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying virB activation, we determined the location of the transcription start site and found it to be 54 bp upstream of the 5' end of the virB coding sequence. Deletion analysis revealed that transcriptional activation by virF requires a DNA segment of 110 bp extending upstream of the transcription start site. By using a protein binding assay with crude extracts of S. flexneri harboring the malE'-'virF fusion gene, which was able to activate virB transcription, two protein species, one of 70 kDa (MalE'-'VirF fusion) and another of 16 kDa (H-NS), were shown to bind specifically to the virB promoter region. DNA footprinting analysis indicated that the VirF fusion and H-NS proteins bound to the upstream sequence spanning from -17 to -117 and to the sequence from -20 to +20, in which virB transcription starts, respectively. In an vitro transcription assay, the VirF fusion protein was shown to activate virB transcription while the H-NS protein blocked it. virB activation was seen only when negatively supercoiled DNA was used as a template. In in vivo studies, virB transcription was significantly decreased by adding novobiocin, a gyrase inhibitor, into the culture medium while virB transcription was increased by mutating hns. These in vitro and in vivo studies indicated that transcription of virB is activated through VirF binding to the upstream sequence of the virB promoter in a DNA-topology-dependent manner and is directly repressed by H-NS binding to the virB transcription start site.

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