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J Bacteriol. 1994 Jan;176(1):143-8.

Repressor mutations in the marRAB operon that activate oxidative stress genes and multiple antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Toxicology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Resistance to multiple antibiotics and certain oxidative stress compounds was conferred by three independently selected mutations (marR1, soxQ1, and cfxB1) that mapped to 34 min on the Escherichia coli chromosome. Mutations at this locus can activate the marRAB operon, in which marR encodes a putative repressor of mar transcription and marA encodes a putative transcriptional activator of defense genes against antibiotics and oxidants. Overexpression of the wild-type MarR protein reversed the phenotypes (antibiotic resistance and increased antioxidant enzyme synthesis) of all three mutants. DNA sequence analysis showed that, like marR1, the other two mutations were alterations of marR: a 285-bp deletion in cfxB1 and a GC-->AT transition at codon 70 (Ala-->Thr) in soxQ1. All three mutations cause increased amounts of mar-specific RNA, which supports the hypothesis that MarR has a repressor function in the expression of the marRAB operon. The level of mar RNA was further induced by tetracycline in both the marR1 and soxQ1 strains but not in the cfxB1 deletion mutant. In the cfxB1 strain, the level of expression of a truncated RNA, with or without tetracycline exposure, was the same as the fully induced level in the other two mutants. Overproduction of MarR in the cfxB1 strain repressed the transcription of the truncated RNA and restored transcriptional inducibility by tetracycline. Thus, induction of the marRAB operon results from the relief of the repression exerted by MarR. The marRAB operon evidently activates both antibiotic resistance and oxidative stress genes.

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