The competence transcription factor ComK plays a central role in competence development in Bacillus subtilis by activating the transcription of the K regulon. ComK-activated genes are characterized by the presence of a specific sequence to which ComK binds, a K-box, in their upstream DNA region. Each K-box consists of two AT-boxes with the consensus sequence AAAA-(N)(5)-TTTT, which are separated by a flexible spacer resulting in either two, three, or four helical turns between the starting nucleotides of the repeating AT-box units. In this study, the effects of potential determinants of ComK regulation in K-boxes were investigated by testing ComK's transcription activation and DNA-binding affinity on altered K-boxes with mutations either in the spacer between the AT-boxes or in the consensus sequence of the AT-boxes. The most striking result demonstrates the importance of the second thymine base in the AT-boxes. Mutation of this T into a guanine resulted in a threefold reduction in transcription activation and DNA binding by ComK. Transcription activation, as well as DNA binding, was almost completely abolished when both AT-boxes contained a T-2-to-G mutation. This result was corroborated by in silico analyses demonstrating that a combination of mutations at the T-2 positions of both AT-boxes is not found among any ComK-activated K-boxes, indicating that at least one consensus T-2 position is required to maintain a functional K-box. The results suggest an important structural role for T-2 in ComK binding, probably by its specific position in the minor groove of the DNA.
- ESCHERICHIA-COLI K-12
- GENETIC COMPETENCE