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Mol Microbiol. 1993 Nov;10(3):675-84.

Chromosomal supercoiling in Escherichia coli.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, Los Angeles 90024.


The Escherichia coli chromosome is compacted into 40-50 negatively supercoiled domains. It has been proposed that these domains differ in superhelical density. Here, we present evidence that this is probably not the case. A modified Tn10 transposable element was inserted at a number of locations around the E. coli chromosome. This element, mTn10-plac-lacZ+, contains the lac operon promoter, plac, whose activity increases with increasing superhelical density, fused to a lacZ+ reporter gene. Although mTn10-plac-lacZ+ fusion expression varies as much as approximately threefold at different insertion sites, the relative levels of expression from these elements are unaffected by replacing plac with the gyrA promoter, pgyrA, which has a reciprocal response to changes in superhelical density. Importantly, topoisomerase mutations and coumermycin, which inhibits DNA gyrase activity, alter mTn10-plac-lacZ+ and mTn10-pgyrA-lacZ+ fusion expression in expected ways, showing that the elements remain responsive to supercoiling and that topoisomerase activity is required for maintaining superhelical density. Fusion expression is not affected by anaerobic growth or osmotic shock, two physiological conditions thought to alter supercoiling. The approximately threefold difference in mTn10-plac-lacZ+ and mTn10-pgyrA-lacZ+ fusion expression observed at different sites may be explained by regional differences in chromosomal copy number that arise from bidirectional replication. Together, these results strongly suggest that the E. coli chromosomal domains do not differ in functional superhelical density.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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