Microcin C (McC) is a peptide-nucleotide antibiotic produced by Escherichia coli cells harboring a plasmid-borne operon mccABCDE. The heptapeptide MccA is converted into McC by adenylation catalyzed by the MccB enzyme. Since MccA is a substrate for MccB, a mechanism that regulates the MccA/MccB ratio likely exists. Here, we show that transcription from a promoter located upstream of mccA directs the synthesis of two transcripts: a short highly abundant transcript containing the mccA ORF and a longer minor transcript containing mccA and downstream ORFs. The short transcript is generated when RNA polymerase terminates transcription at an intrinsic terminator located in the intergenic region between the mccA and mccB genes. The function of this terminator is strongly attenuated by upstream mcc sequences. Attenuation is relieved and transcription termination is induced when ribosome binds to the mccA ORF. Ribosome binding also makes the mccA RNA exceptionally stable. Together, these two effects-ribosome-induced transcription termination and stabilization of the message-account for very high abundance of the mccA transcript that is essential for McC production. The general scheme appears to be evolutionary conserved as ribosome-induced transcription termination also occurs in a homologous operon from Helicobacter pylori.
© The Author(s) 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.