PLoS Genetics, 2016, Vol.12(4)
While an increasing number of conserved small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are known to function in general bacterial physiology, the roles and modes of action of sRNAs from horizontally acquired genomic regions remain little understood. The IsrK sRNA of Gifsy-1 prophage of Salmonella belongs to the latter class. This regulatory RNA exists in two isoforms. The first forms, when a portion of transcripts originating from isrK promoter reads-through the IsrK transcription-terminator producing a translationally inactive mRNA target. Acting in trans , the second isoform, short IsrK RNA, binds the inactive transcript rendering it translationally active. By switching on translation of the first isoform, short IsrK indirectly activates the production of AntQ, an antiterminator protein located upstream of isrK . Expression of antQ globally interferes with transcription termination resulting in bacterial growth arrest and ultimately cell death. Escherichia coli and Salmonella cells expressing AntQ display condensed chromatin morphology and localization of UvrD to the nucleoid. The toxic phenotype of AntQ can be rescued by co-expression of the transcription termination factor, Rho, or RNase H, which protects genomic DNA from breaks by resolving R-loops. We propose that AntQ causes conflicts between transcription and replication machineries and thus promotes DNA damage. The isrK locus represents a unique example of an island-encoded sRNA that exerts a highly complex regulatory mechanism to tune the expression of a toxic protein. Author Summary As the function of conserved core-genome-encoded small RNAs (sRNA) reflects the basic lifestyle of bacteria, the function of non-conserved island-encoded sRNAs remains enigmatic. The island-encoded sRNA IsrK belongs to Gifsy-1 prophage of Salmonella . Here, we report a complex mechanism in which the IsrK RNA functions as both sRNA and mRNA to control the production of the toxic AntQ protein. The isrK promoter directs the synthesis of two distinct RNA species: a full-length translationally inactive target mRNA and the correctly terminated, shorter IsrK sRNA. IsrK sRNA binds the full-length inactive mRNA producing an antiterminator protein, AntQ, which interferes with transcription termination. Expression of antQ results in bacterial growth arrest and ultimately cell death. Fluorescence microscopy of E . coli and Salmonella expressing antQ revealed condensed chromatin morphology as observed upon exposure to DNA-damaging agents. We propose that expression of the phage antiterminator protein results in conflicts between transcription and replication machineries and thus facilitates DNA damage. In summary, the RNA regulator IsrK presents a new regulatory principle in which a horizontally acquired sRNA controls genome integrity.
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