Revealing the mechanism of repressor inactivation during switching of a temperate bacteriophage

Kim Krighaar Rasmussen, Andrés Palencia, Anders K. Varming, Habiba El-Wali, Elisabetta Boeri Erba, Martin Blackledge, Karin Hammer, Torsten Herrmann, Mogens Kilstrup, Leila Lo Leggio*, Malene Ringkjøbing Jensen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Temperate bacteriophages can enter one of two life cycles following infection of a sensitive host: the lysogenic or the lytic life cycle. The choice between the two alternative life cycles is dependent upon a tight regulation of promoters and their cognate regulatory proteins within the phage genome. We investigated the genetic switch of TP901-1, a bacteriophage of Lactococcus lactis, controlled by the CI repressor and the modulator of repression (MOR) antirepressor and their interactions with DNA. We determined the solution structure of MOR, and we solved the crystal structure of MOR in complex with the N-terminal domain of CI, revealing the structural basis of MOR inhibition of CI binding to the DNA operator sites. 15N NMR Carr–Purcell–Meiboom–Gill (CPMG) relaxation dispersion and rotating frame R1ρ measurements demonstrate that MOR displays molecular recognition dynamics on two different time scales involving a repacking of aromatic residues at the interface with CI. Mutations in the CI:MOR binding interface impair complex formation in vitro, and when introduced in vivo, the bacteriophage switch is unable to choose the lytic life cycle showing that the CI:MOR complex is essential for proper functioning of the genetic switch. On the basis of sequence alignments, we show that the structural features of the MOR:CI complex are likely conserved among a larger family of bacteriophages from human pathogens implicated in transfer of antibiotic resistance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
Pages (from-to)20576-20585
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Temperate bacteriophage
  • Genetic switch
  • Protein dynamics
  • NMR
  • X-ray crystallography


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