The antisense RNA of the par locus of pAD1 regulates the expression of a 33-amino-acid toxic peptide by an unusual mechanism



The par stability determinant of the Enterococcus faecalis plasmid pAD1 is the first antisense RNA-regulated post-segregational killing system (PSK) identified in a Gram-positive organism. Par encodes two small, convergently transcribed RNAs, designated RNA I and RNA II, which are the toxin and antidote of the par PSK system respectively. RNA I encodes an open reading frame of 33 codons designated fst. The results presented here demonstrate that the peptide encoded by fst is the par toxin. The fst sequence was shown to be sufficient for cell killing, and removal of the final codon inactivated the toxin. In vitro translation reactions of purified RNA I transcript produced a product of the expected size for the fst-encoded peptide. This product was not produced when purified RNA II transcript was added to the translation reaction. Toeprint analysis demonstrated that purified RNA II was able to inhibit ribosome binding to RNA I. These data suggest that fst expression is regulated by RNA II via an antisense RNA mechanism. In vitro translation studies and toeprint analyses also indicated that fst expression is internally regulated by a stem–loop structure at the 5′ end of RNA I. Removal of this structure resulted in better ribosome binding to RNA I and a 300-fold increase in production of the fst-encoded peptide. Finally, RNA II was shown to be less stable than RNA I in vivo, providing a basis for the selective expression of fst in plasmid-free cells.