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J Bacteriol. 1999 Feb;181(3):941-8.

Phenotypic analysis of random hns mutations differentiate DNA-binding activity from properties of fimA promoter inversion modulation and bacterial motility.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.


H-NS is a major Escherichia coli nucleoid-associated protein involved in bacterial DNA condensation and global modulation of gene expression. This protein exists in cells as at least two different isoforms separable by isoelectric focusing. Among other phenotypes, mutations in hns result in constitutive expression of the proU and fimB genes, increased fimA promoter inversion rates, and repression of the flhCD master operon required for flagellum biosynthesis. To understand the relationship between H-NS structure and function, we transformed a cloned hns gene into a mutator strain and collected a series of mutant alleles that failed to repress proU expression. Each of these isolated hns mutant alleles also failed to repress fimB expression, suggesting that H-NS-specific repression of proU and fimB occurs by similar mechanisms. Conversely, alleles encoding single amino acid substitutions in the C-terminal DNA-binding domain of H-NS resulted in significantly reduced affinity for DNA yet conferred a wild-type fimA promoter inversion frequency, indicating that the mechanism of H-NS activity in modulating promoter inversion is independent of DNA binding. Furthermore, two specific H-NS amino acid substitutions resulted in hypermotile bacteria, while C-terminal H-NS truncations exhibited reduced motility. We also analyzed H-NS isoform composition expressed by various hns mutations and found that the N-terminal 67 amino acids were sufficient to support posttranslational modification and that substitutions at positions 18 and 26 resulted in the expression of a single H-NS isoform. These results are discussed in terms of H-NS domain organization and implications for biological activity.

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