6S RNA - an old issue became blue-green

Microbiology (Reading). 2012 Oct;158(Pt 10):2480-2491. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.058958-0. Epub 2012 Jul 5.


6S RNA from Escherichia coli acts as a versatile transcriptional regulator by binding to the RNA polymerase and changing promoter selectivity. Although homologous 6S RNA structures exist in a wide range of bacteria, including cyanobacteria, our knowledge of 6S RNA function results almost exclusively from studies with E. coli. To test for potential structural and functional conservation, we selected four predicted cyanobacterial 6S RNAs (Synechocystis, Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus and Nostoc), which we compared with their E. coli counterpart. Temperature-gradient gel electrophoresis revealed similar thermodynamic transition profiles for all 6S RNAs, indicating basically similar secondary structures. Subtle differences in melting behaviour of the different RNAs point to minor structural variations possibly linked to differences in optimal growth temperature. Secondary structural analysis of three cyanobacterial 6S RNAs employing limited enzymic hydrolysis and in-line probing supported the predicted high degree of secondary structure conservation. Testing for functional homology we found that all cyanobacterial 6S RNAs were active in binding E. coli RNA polymerase and transcriptional inhibition, and had the ability to act as template for transcription of product RNAs (pRNAs). Deletion of the 6S RNA gene in Synechocystis did not significantly affect cell growth in liquid media but reduced fitness during growth on solid agar. While our study shows that basic 6S RNA functions are conserved in species as distantly related as E. coli and cyanobacteria, we also noted a subtle degree of divergence, which might reflect fundamental differences in transcriptional regulation and lifestyle, thus providing the first evidence for a possible physiological role in cyanobacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cyanobacteria / classification
  • Cyanobacteria / genetics*
  • Cyanobacteria / growth & development
  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Nostoc / genetics
  • Nostoc / metabolism
  • Prochlorococcus / genetics
  • Prochlorococcus / metabolism
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • Synechococcus / genetics
  • Synechococcus / metabolism
  • Synechocystis / genetics
  • Synechocystis / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • 6S RNA
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases