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J Mol Biol. 1997 Oct 17;273(1):26-37.

Programmed cell death by hok/sok of plasmid R1: coupled nucleotide covariations reveal a phylogenetically conserved folding pathway in the hok family of mRNAs.

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Leiden Institute of Chemistry, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


The hok/sok system of plasmid R1 mediates plasmid maintenance by killing of plasmid-free cells. Translation of the stable toxin-encoding hok mRNA is repressed by the unstable Sok antisense RNA. Using genetic algorithm simulations and phylogenetic comparisons, we analyse five plasmid-encoded and two chromosome-encoded hok-homologous mRNAs. A similar folding pathway was found for all mRNAs. Metastable hairpins at the very 5'-ends of the mRNAs were predicted to prevent the formation of structures required for translation and antisense RNA binding. Thus the folding of the mRNA 5'-ends appears to explain the apparent inactivity of the nascent transcripts. In the full-length mRNAs, long-range 5' to 3' interactions were predicted in all cases. The 5' to 3' interactions lock the mRNAs in inactive configurations. Translation of the mRNAs is activated by 3' exonucleolytic processing. Simulation of the 3' processing predicted that it triggers rearrangements of the mRNA 5'-ends with the formation of translational activator and antisense RNA target hairpins. Alignment of the mRNA sequences revealed a large number of nucleotide covariations that support the existence of the proposed secondary structures. Furthermore, coupled covariations support the folding pathway and provide evidence that the mRNA 5'-ends pair with three different partners during the proposed series of dynamic RNA rearrangements.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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