Two pathways for RNase E action in Escherichia coli in vivo and bypass of its essentiality in mutants defective for Rho-dependent transcription termination


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The endonuclease RNase E of Escherichia coli is essential for viability, but deletion of its C-terminal half (CTH) is not lethal. RNase E preferentially acts on 5′-monophosphorylated RNA whose generation from primary transcripts is catalysed by RppH, but ΔRppH strains are viable. Here we show that the RNase E-ΔCTH ΔRppH combination is lethal, and that the lethality is suppressed by rho or nusG mutations impairing Rho-dependent transcription termination. Lethality was correlated with defects in bulk mRNA decay and tRNA processing, which were reversed by the rho suppressor. Lethality suppression was dependent on RNase H1 or the helicase UvsW of phage T4, both of which act to remove RNA–DNA hybrids (R-loops). The rho and nusG mutations also rescued inviability of a double alteration R169Q (that abolishes 5′-sensing) with ΔCTH in RNase E, as also that of conditional RNase E deficiency. We suggest that the ΔCTH alteration leads to loss of a second 5′-end-independent pathway of RNase E action. We further propose that an increased abundance of R-loops in the rho and nusG mutants, although ordinarily inimical to growth, contributes to rescue the lethality associated with loss of the two RNase E cleavage pathways by providing an alternative means of RNA degradation.