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J Bacteriol. 1993 Jan;175(2):519-27.

Repressor binding to a regulatory site in the DNA coding sequence is sufficient to confer transcriptional regulation of the vir-repressed genes (vrg genes) in Bordetella pertussis.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Five TnphoA fusions to vir-repressed genes (vrg genes) have been identified in the respiratory pathogen Bordetella pertussis. A comparison of vrg DNA sequences suggests a consensus DNA element within the coding regions of four of five vrg genes. To determine the role of this DNA sequence in vrg regulation, a nucleotide substitution mutation in the conserved region of vrg-6 was isolated. This mutant showed constitutively high levels of expression in the absence of antigenic modulators, MgSO4 and nicotinic acid, suggesting that this DNA element may be a control site for vrg repression. Moreover, Northern (RNA) analysis and transcriptional fusion analysis suggest that vrg genes are regulated at the transcriptional level. To determine whether sequences in the coding region were sufficient to respond to antigenic modulation, a vrg-6::TnphoA promoter deletion plasmid that contained a heterologous promoter driving the expression of vrg-6 coding sequences from the vrg-6 translation start site to the TnphoA fusion junction was constructed. This heterologous construct responded to modulators in a vir-dependent fashion, indicating that sequences upstream of the coding sequence are not required for antigenic modulation. Southwestern (DNA-protein) analysis and mutational studies suggest that the vrg consensus DNA sequence is specifically recognized by a 34-kDa vir-activated gene (vag) product, whose binding results in down-regulation of vrg transcript levels. We conclude, at least for the vrg::TnphoA fusion strains, that a site on the DNA that corresponds to a consensus sequence located in the vrg coding region is sufficient to confer the transcriptional regulation (repression) of vrg genes when B. pertussis strains are grown under nonmodulating conditions.

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