Transcription elongation factor NusA is a general antagonist of Rho-dependent termination in Escherichia coli. [Microbiology]

February 12th, 2016 by Qayyum, M. Z., Dey, D., Sen, R.

NusA is an essential protein that binds to RNA polymerase (RNAP) and also to the nascent RNA, and influences transcription by inducing pausing and facilitating the process of transcription termination / antitermination. Its participation in Rho-dependent transcription termination has been perceived, but the molecular nature of this involvement is not known. We hypothesized that as both Rho and NusA are RNA-binding proteins and have the potential to target the same RNA, the latter is likely to influence the global pattern of the Rho-dependent termination. Analyses of the nascent RNA-binding properties and consequent effects on the Rho-dependent termination functions of specific NusA-RNA binding domain mutants revealed an existence of Rho-NusA direct competition for the overlapping nut (NusA-binding site) and rut (Rho-binding site) sites on the RNA. This leads to delayed entry of Rho at the rut site that inhibits the RNA release process of the latter. High density tiling micro-array profiles of these NusA mutants revealed that a significant number of genes, together with transcripts from intergenic regions are up-regulated. Interestingly, majority of these genes were also up-regulated when the Rho function was compromised. These are strong evidences for the existence of NusA-binding sites in different operons which are also the targets of Rho-dependent terminations. Our data strongly argue in favor of a direct competition between NusA and Rho for the access of specific sites on the nascent transcripts in different parts of the genome. We propose that this competition enables NusA to function as a global antagonist of the Rho function, which is unlike its role as a facilitator of hairpin-dependent termination.