Cysteine residue 69 of the Escherichia coli Ada transcription factor, which accepts a methyl group from methylphosphotriester in methylated DNA, was substituted by each of 19 other amino acids. Only the mutant Ada (C69H), carrying a histidine substitution of Cys69, exhibited a limited degree of transactivating potential for the ada promoter in E. coli cells although the mutant protein was completely devoid of methylphosphotriester-DNA methyltransferase activity. Using a multicopy plasmid system for the expression of Ada protein, we have shown that Ada C69H has a transactivating capacity equivalent to that of wild-type Ada protein in the absence of an alkylating agent. This indicates that the zinc-binding capacity of histidine at residue 69 is likely to be sufficient for Ada to recognize and bind to the ada promoter. Furthermore, transactivation of the ada promoter by Ada C69H was enhanced up to 6-fold by treatment with methylating agents. An additional substitution was made with alanine in Ada C69H, replacing Cys321, the site for acceptance of a methyl group from O6-methylguanine and O4-methylthymine residues in DNA, with alanine. This renders the protein completely inactive as a methyltransferase but this derivative is constitutively active as a transactivator for the ada promoter. Therefore, acquisition of a methyl group at Cys321 apparently enhances the transactivating capacity of Ada protein on the ada promoter. We propose that the transcription-regulating function of Ada protein is under dual control by methylation of cysteine residues at positions 69 and 321; the former enhances DNA binding, while the latter enhances the transactivating capacity of the protein.
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