Structural basis for converting a general transcription factor into an operon-specific virulence regulator.
ABSTRACT: RfaH, a paralog of the general transcription factor NusG, is recruited to elongating RNA polymerase at specific regulatory sites. The X-ray structure of Escherichia coli RfaH reported here reveals two domains. The N-terminal domain displays high similarity to that of NusG. In contrast, the alpha-helical coiled-coil C domain, while retaining sequence similarity, is strikingly different from the beta barrel of NusG. To our knowledge, such an all-beta to all-alpha transition of the entire domain is the most extreme example of protein fold evolution known to date. Both N domains possess a vast hydrophobic cavity that is buried by the C domain in RfaH but is exposed in NusG. We propose that this cavity constitutes the RNA polymerase-binding site, which becomes unmasked in RfaH only upon sequence-specific binding to the nontemplate DNA strand that triggers domain dissociation. Finally, we argue that RfaH binds to the beta' subunit coiled coil, the major target site for the initiation sigma factors.
Project description:Universally conserved NusG/Spt5 factors reduce RNA polymerase pausing and arrest. In a widely accepted model, these proteins bridge the RNA polymerase clamp and lobe domains across the DNA channel, inhibiting the clamp opening to promote pause-free RNA synthesis. However, recent structures of paused transcription elongation complexes show that the clamp does not open and suggest alternative mechanisms of antipausing. Among these mechanisms, direct contacts of NusG/Spt5 proteins with the nontemplate DNA in the transcription bubble have been proposed to prevent unproductive DNA conformations and thus inhibit arrest. We used Escherichia coli RfaH, whose interactions with DNA are best characterized, to test this idea. We report that RfaH stabilizes the upstream edge of the transcription bubble, favoring forward translocation, and protects the upstream duplex DNA from exonuclease cleavage. Modeling suggests that RfaH loops the nontemplate DNA around its surface and restricts the upstream DNA duplex mobility. Strikingly, we show that RfaH-induced DNA protection and antipausing activity can be mimicked by shortening the nontemplate strand in elongation complexes assembled on synthetic scaffolds. We propose that remodeling of the nontemplate DNA controls recruitment of regulatory factors and R-loop formation during transcription elongation across all life.
Project description:NusG/RfaH/Spt5 transcription elongation factors are the only transcription regulators conserved across all life. Bacterial NusG regulates RNA polymerase (RNAP) elongation complexes (ECs) across most genes, enhancing elongation by suppressing RNAP backtracking and coordinating ?-dependent termination and translation. The NusG paralog RfaH engages the EC only at operon polarity suppressor (ops) sites and suppresses both backtrack and hairpin-stabilized pausing. We used single-particle cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine structures of ECs at ops with NusG or RfaH. Both factors chaperone base-pairing of the upstream duplex DNA to suppress backtracking, explaining stimulation of elongation genome-wide. The RfaH-opsEC structure reveals how RfaH confers operon specificity through specific recognition of an ops hairpin in the single-stranded nontemplate DNA and tighter binding to the EC to exclude NusG. Tight EC binding by RfaH sterically blocks the swiveled RNAP conformation necessary for hairpin-stabilized pausing. The universal conservation of NusG/RfaH/Spt5 suggests that the molecular mechanisms uncovered here are widespread.
Project description:NusG homologs regulate transcription and coupled processes in all living organisms. The Escherichia coli (E. coli) two-domain paralogs NusG and RfaH have conformationally identical N-terminal domains (NTDs) but dramatically different carboxy-terminal domains (CTDs), a ? barrel in NusG and an ? hairpin in RfaH. Both NTDs interact with elongating RNA polymerase (RNAP) to reduce pausing. In NusG, NTD and CTD are completely independent, and NusG-CTD interacts with termination factor Rho or ribosomal protein S10. In contrast, RfaH-CTD makes extensive contacts with RfaH-NTD to mask an RNAP-binding site therein. Upon RfaH interaction with its DNA target, the operon polarity suppressor (ops) DNA, RfaH-CTD is released, allowing RfaH-NTD to bind to RNAP. Here, we show that the released RfaH-CTD completely refolds from an all-? to an all-? conformation identical to that of NusG-CTD. As a consequence, RfaH-CTD binding to S10 is enabled and translation of RfaH-controlled operons is strongly potentiated. PAPERFLICK:
Project description:RfaH, member of the NusG/Spt5 family, activates virulence genes in Gram-negative pathogens. RfaH exists in two states, with its C-terminal domain (CTD) folded either as α-helical hairpin or β-barrel. In free RfaH, the α-helical CTD interacts with, and masks the RNA polymerase binding site on, the N-terminal domain, autoinhibiting RfaH and restricting its recruitment to opsDNA sequences. Upon activation, the domains separate and the CTD refolds into the β-barrel, which recruits a ribosome, activating translation. Using NMR spectroscopy, we show that only a complete ops-paused transcription elongation complex activates RfaH, probably via a transient encounter complex, allowing the refolded CTD to bind ribosomal protein S10. We also demonstrate that upon release from the elongation complex, the CTD transforms back into the autoinhibitory α-state, resetting the cycle. Transformation-coupled autoinhibition allows RfaH to achieve high specificity and potent activation of gene expression.
Project description:Transcription factors from the NusG family bind to the elongating RNA polymerase to enable synthesis of long RNAs in all domains of life. In bacteria, NusG frequently co-exists with specialized paralogs that regulate expression of a small set of targets, many of which encode virulence factors. Escherichia coli RfaH is the exemplar of this regulatory mechanism. In contrast to NusG, which freely binds to RNA polymerase, RfaH exists in a structurally distinct autoinhibitory state in which the RNA polymerase-binding site is buried at the interface between two RfaH domains. Binding to an ops DNA sequence triggers structural transformation wherein the domains dissociate and RfaH refolds into a NusG-like structure. Formation of the autoinhibitory state, and thus sequence-specific recruitment, represents the decisive step in the evolutionary history of the RfaH subfamily. We used computational and experimental approaches to identify the residues that confer the unique regulatory properties of RfaH. Our analysis highlighted highly conserved Ile and Phe residues at the RfaH interdomain interface. Replacement of these residues with equally conserved Glu and Val counterpart residues in NusG destabilized interactions between the RfaH domains and allowed sequence-independent recruitment to RNA polymerase, suggesting a plausible pathway for diversification of NusG paralogs.
Project description:The only universally conserved family of transcription factors comprises housekeeping regulators and their specialized paralogs, represented by well-studied NusG and RfaH. Despite their ubiquity, little information is available on the evolutionary origins, functions, and gene targets of the NusG family members. We built a hidden Markov model profile of RfaH and identified its homologs in sequenced genomes. While NusG is widespread among bacterial phyla and coresides with genes encoding RNA polymerase and ribosome in all except extremely reduced genomes, RfaH is mostly limited to Proteobacteria and lacks common gene neighbors. RfaH activates only a few xenogeneic operons that are otherwise silenced by NusG and Rho. Phylogenetic reconstructions reveal extensive duplications and horizontal transfer of rfaH genes, including those borne by plasmids, and the molecular evolution pathway of RfaH, from "early" exclusion of the Rho terminator and tightened RNA polymerase binding to "late" interactions with the ops DNA element and autoinhibition, which together define the RfaH regulon. Remarkably, NusG is not only ubiquitous in Bacteria but also common in plants, where it likely modulates the transcription of plastid genes.IMPORTANCE In all domains of life, NusG-like proteins make contacts similar to those of RNA polymerase and promote pause-free transcription yet may play different roles, defined by their divergent interactions with nucleic acids and accessory proteins, in the same cell. This duality is illustrated by Escherichia coli NusG and RfaH, which silence and activate xenogenes, respectively. We combined sequence analysis and recent functional and structural insights to envision the evolutionary transformation of NusG, a core regulator that we show is present in all cells using bacterial RNA polymerase, into a virulence factor, RfaH. Our results suggest a stepwise conversion of a NusG duplicate copy into a sequence-specific regulator which excludes NusG from its targets but does not compromise the regulation of housekeeping genes. We find that gene duplication and lateral transfer give rise to a surprising diversity within the only ubiquitous family of transcription factors.
Project description:Elongation factors NusG and RfaH evolved from a common ancestor and utilize the same binding site on RNA polymerase (RNAP) to modulate transcription. However, although NusG associates with RNAP transcribing most Escherichia coli genes, RfaH regulates just a few operons containing ops, a DNA sequence that mediates RfaH recruitment. Here, we describe the mechanism by which this specificity is maintained. We observe that RfaH action is indeed restricted to those several operons that are devoid of NusG in vivo. We also show that RfaH and NusG compete for their effects on transcript elongation and termination in vitro. Our data argue that RfaH recognizes its DNA target even in the presence of NusG. Once recruited, RfaH remains stably associated with RNAP, thereby precluding NusG binding. We envision a pathway by which a specialized regulator has evolved in the background of its ubiquitous paralogue. We propose that RfaH and NusG may have opposite regulatory functions: although NusG appears to function in concert with Rho, RfaH inhibits Rho action and activates the expression of poorly translated, frequently foreign genes.
Project description:RNA polymerase is a target for numerous regulatory events in all living cells. Recent studies identified a few "hot spots" on the surface of bacterial RNA polymerase that mediate its interactions with diverse accessory proteins. Prominent among these hot spots, the beta' subunit clamp helices serve as a major binding site for the initiation factor sigma and for the elongation factor RfaH. Furthermore, the two proteins interact with the nontemplate DNA strand in transcription complexes and thus may interfere with each other's activity. We show that RfaH does not inhibit transcription initiation but, once recruited to RNA polymerase, abolishes sigma-dependent pausing. We argue that this apparent competition is due to a steric exclusion of sigma by RfaH that is stably bound to the nontemplate DNA and clamp helices, both of which are necessary for the sigma recruitment to the transcription complex. Our findings highlight the key regulatory role played by the clamp helices during both initiation and elongation stages of transcription.
Project description:In all organisms, RNA polymerase (RNAP) relies on accessory factors to complete synthesis of long RNAs. These factors increase RNAP processivity by reducing pausing and termination, but their molecular mechanisms remain incompletely understood. We identify the ? gate loop as an RNAP element required for antipausing activity of a bacterial virulence factor RfaH, a member of the universally conserved NusG family. Interactions with the gate loop are necessary for suppression of pausing and termination by RfaH, but are dispensable for RfaH binding to RNAP mediated by the ?' clamp helices. We hypothesize that upon binding to the clamp helices and the gate loop RfaH bridges the gap across the DNA channel, stabilizing RNAP contacts with nucleic acid and disfavoring isomerization into a paused state. We show that contacts with the gate loop are also required for antipausing by NusG and propose that most NusG homologs use similar mechanisms to increase RNAP processivity.
Project description:Upon RNA polymerase (RNAP) binding to a promoter, the ? factor initiates DNA strand separation and captures the melted nontemplate DNA, whereas the core enzyme establishes interactions with the duplex DNA in front of the active site that stabilize initiation complexes and persist throughout elongation. Among many core RNAP elements that participate in these interactions, the ?' clamp domain plays the most prominent role. In this work, we investigate the role of the ? gate loop, a conserved and essential structural element that lies across the DNA channel from the clamp, in transcription regulation. The gate loop was proposed to control DNA loading during initiation and to interact with NusG-like proteins to lock RNAP in a closed, processive state during elongation. We show that the removal of the gate loop has large effects on promoter complexes, trapping an unstable intermediate in which the RNAP contacts with the nontemplate strand discriminator region and the downstream duplex DNA are not yet fully established. We find that although RNAP lacking the gate loop displays moderate defects in pausing, transcript cleavage, and termination, it is fully responsive to the transcription elongation factor NusG. Together with the structural data, our results support a model in which the gate loop, acting in concert with initiation or elongation factors, guides the nontemplate DNA in transcription complexes, thereby modulating their regulatory properties.