Background: IS1, the smallest active transposable element in bacteria, encodes transposase. IS1 transposase promotes transposition as well as production of miniplasmids from a plasmid carrying IS1 by deletion of the region adjacent to IS1. The IS1 transposase also promotes production of IS1 circles consisting of the entire IS1 sequence and a sequence, 6-9 bp in length, as a spacer between terminal inverted repeats of IS1. The biological significance of the generation of IS1 circles is not known.
Results: Plasmids carrying an IS1 circle with a spacer sequence 6-9 bp long transposed to target plasmids at a very high frequency when transposase was produced from a co-resident plasmid. The products were target plasmids with the donor plasmid inserted at the ends of IS1 in the IS1 circle. This insertion accompanied the removal of the spacer sequence and duplication of the sequence at the target site. IS1 circles with a much longer spacer sequence transposed less frequently. The SOS response was induced in cells harbouring a plasmid with an IS1 circle owing to transposase. IS1 circles could transpose in the strain deficient in H-NS, a nucleoid-associated DNA-binding protein known to be required for the transposition of IS1.
Conclusions: IS1 circles appear to act as intermediates for simple insertion into the target DNA via cleavage of the circles which induces the SOS response. H-NS may function in promoting the assembly of an active IS1 DNA-transposase complex at the terminal inverted repeats.