Transcriptional and translational control of the genes for the mating pair formation apparatus of promiscuous IncP plasmids

M Zatyka, G Jagura-Burdzy, C M Thomas

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36 Citations (Scopus)


The trb operon of broad-host-range plasmid RK2 encodes most of the genes required for formation of mating-pair apparatus and is thus essential for the promiscuous spread of this plasmid. Only two promoters, lying upstream of trbA and trbB, have been identified for this operon. trbB encodes a protein belonging to a large family of proteins which function in the assembly of apparatuses associated with the cell surface. trbA encodes a repressor protein, one of whose targets is the trbB promoter. trbAp is arranged as a face-to-face divergent promoter with trfAp, the strongest of the three promoters in this region. trfAp completely inhibits trbAp unless it is repressed by the KorA protein, a key regulator encoded in the plasmid's central control operon. We show that when trfAp is firing constitutively, it also appears to interfere with trbBp, but that trbBp activity increases when trfAp activity is decreased by repression or mutation. A second global regulator encoded in the central control operon, KorB, represses trbBp, trfAp, and trbAp. The results presented here show that both KorB and TrbA are necessary for full repression of trbBp. The region between trbA and trbB encodes a large inverted repeat which has been proposed to modulate translation of trbB on transcripts which are initiated at trbAp but not trbBp. Using translational fusions to lacZ, we show that translation of trbB is completely blocked when transcripts incorporate the inverted repeat upstream of trbB but proceeds with reasonable efficiency when deletions remove the sequences predicted to sequester the ribosome binding site. Results from both transcriptional fusion and direct measurement of transcript size and intensity by Northern blot analysis show that most trbA transcripts are monocistronic and serve to express only trbA, although some transcription continues into trbB. The monocistronic trbA transcript appears to be the result of transcription termination downstream of trbA. Thus, trbAp and trbA appear to form an operon distinct from the trbB-trbP operon. Consequently, trbA and the switch that controls its expression help to provide the sequential steps which allow efficient expression of transfer genes during plasmid establishment but tight repression once the plasmid is established.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7201-9
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1997


  • Bacterial Proteins/genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • Escherichia coli/genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis
  • Plasmids/genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA, Bacterial/analysis
  • RNA, Messenger/analysis
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Repressor Proteins/genetics
  • Terminator Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic


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