Specific cysteine residues at possible methyl acceptor sites of the Ada protein of Escherichia coli were converted to other amino acids by site-directed mutagenesis of the cloned ada gene of E. coli. Ada protein with the cysteine residue at 321 replaced by alanine was capable of accepting the methyl group from the methylphosphotriester but not from O6-methylguanine or O4-methylthymine of alkylated DNA, whereas the protein with alanine at position 69 accepted the methyl group from the methylated bases but not from the methylphosphotriester. These two mutants were used to elucidate the biological significance of repair of the two types of alkylation lesions. Introduction of the ada gene with the Ala69 mutation into an ada- cell rendered the cell more resistant to alkylating agents with respect to both killing and induction of mutations, but the gene with the Ala321 mutation exhibited no such activity. Replacement of the cysteine residue at position 69, but not at position 321, abolished the ability of Ada protein to promote transcription of both ada and alkA genes in vitro. These results are compatible with the idea that methylation of the cysteine residue at position 69 renders Ada protein active as a transcriptional regulator, whilst the cysteine residue at position 321 is responsible for repair of pre-mutagenic and lethal lesions in DNA. The actions of mutant Ada proteins on the ada and alkA promoters in vivo were investigated using an artificially composed gene expression system. When the ada gene with the Ala69 mutation was introduced into the cell, there was little induction of expression of either the ada or the alkA genes, even after treatment with an alkylating agent, in agreement with the data obtained from studies in vitro. With the Ala321 mutation, however, a considerable degree of ada gene expression occurred without adaptive treatment. The latter finding suggests that the cysteine residue at position 321, which is located near the C terminus of the Ada protein, is involved in regulating activity, as the transcriptional activator.
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