The S box regulon: a new global transcription termination control system for methionine and cysteine biosynthesis genes in Gram-positive bacteria


Tina M. Henkin E-mail; Tel. (614) 688 3831; Fax (614) 292 8120.


The molecular mechanisms for regulation of the genes involved in the biosynthesis of methionine and cysteine are poorly characterized in Bacillus subtilis. Analyses of the recently completed B. subtilis genome revealed 11 copies of a highly conserved motif. In all cases, this motif was located in the leader region of putative transcriptional units, upstream of coding sequences that included genes involved in methionine or cysteine biosynthesis. Additional copies were identified in Clostridium acetobutylicum and Staphylococcus aureus, indicating conservation in other Gram-positive genera. The motif includes an element resembling an intrinsic transcriptional terminator, suggesting that regulation might be controlled at the level of premature termination of transcription. The 5′ portion of all of the leaders could fold into a conserved complex structure. Analysis of the yitJ gene, which is homologous to Escherichia coli metH and metF, revealed that expression was induced by starvation for methionine and that induction was independent of the promoter and dependent on the leader region terminator. Mutation of conserved primary sequence and structural elements supported a model in which the 5′ portion of the leader forms an anti-antiterminator structure, which sequesters sequences required for the formation of an antiterminator, which, in turn, sequesters sequences required for the formation of the terminator; the anti-antiterminator is postulated to be stabilized by the binding of some unknown factor when methionine is available. This set of genes is proposed to form a new regulon controlled by a global termination control system, which we designate the S box system, as most of the genes are involved in sulphur metabolism and biosynthesis of methionine and cysteine.