The Ada protein of Escherichia coli catalyzes transfer of methyl groups from methylated DNA to its own molecule, and the methylated form of Ada protein promotes transcription of its own gene, ada. Using an in vitro reconstituted system, we found that both the sigma factor and the methylated Ada protein are required for transcription of the ada gene. To elucidate molecular mechanisms involved in the regulation of the ada transcription, we investigated interactions of the non-methylated and methylated forms of Ada protein and the RNA polymerase holo enzyme (the core enzyme and sigma factor) with a DNA fragment carrying the ada promoter region. Footprinting analyses revealed that the methylated Ada protein binds to a region from positions -63 to -31, which includes the ada regulatory sequence AAAGCGCA. No firm binding was observed with the non-methylated Ada protein, although some DNase I-hypersensitive sites were produced in the promoter by both types of Ada protein. RNA polymerase did bind to the promoter once the methylated Ada protein had bound to the upstream sequence. To correlate these phenomena with the process in vivo, we used the DNAs derived from promoter-defective mutants. No binding of Ada protein nor of RNA polymerase occurred with a mutant DNA having a C to G substitution at position -47 within the ada regulatory sequence. In the case of a -35 box mutant with a T to A change at position -34, the methylated Ada protein did bind to the ada regulatory sequence, yet there was no RNA polymerase binding. Thus, the binding of the methylated Ada protein to the upstream region apparently facilitates binding of the RNA polymerase to the proper region of the promoter. The Ada protein possesses two known methyl acceptor sites, Cys69 and Cys321. The role of methylation of each cysteine residue was investigated using mutant forms of the Ada protein. The Ada protein with the cysteine residue at position 69 replaced by alanine was incapable of binding to the ada promoter even when the cysteine residue at position 321 of the protein was methylated. When the Ada protein with alanine at position 321 was methylated, it acquired the potential to bind to the ada promoter. These results are compatible with the notion that methylation of the cysteine residue at position 69 causes a conformational change of the Ada protein, thereby facilitating binding of the protein to the upstream regulatory sequence.
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