Wild-type strains of Campylobacter fetus contain a monomolecular array of surface layer proteins (SLPs) and vary the antigenicity of the predominant SLP expressed. Reciprocal recombination events among the eight genomic SLP gene cassettes, which encode 97- to 149 kDa SLPs, permit this variation. To explore whether SLP expression utilizes a single promoter, we created mutant bacterial strains using insertional mutagenesis by rescue of a marker from plasmids. Experimental analysis of the mutants created clearly indicates that SLP expression solely utilizes the single sapA promoter, and that for variation C. fetus uses a mechanism of DNA rearrangement involving inversion of a 6.2 kb segment of DNA containing this promoter. This DNA inversion positions the sapA promoter immediately upstream of one of two oppositely oriented SLP gene cassettes, leading to its expression. Additionally, a second mechanism of DNA rearrangement occurs to replace at least one of the two SLP gene cassettes bracketing the invertible element. As previously reported promoter inversions in prokaryotes, yeasts and viruses involve alternate expression of at most two structural genes, the ability of C. fetus to use this phenomenon to express one of multiple cassettes is novel.
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