The Escherichia coli gal operon has the structure Pgal-galE-galT-galK-galM. During early log growth, a gradient in gene expression, named type 2 polarity, is established, as follows: galE > galT > galK > galM. However, during late-log growth, type 1 polarity is established in which galK is greater than galT, as follows: galE > galK > galT > galM. We found that type 2 polarity occurs as a result of the down-regulation of galK, which is caused by two different molecular mechanisms: Spot 42-mediated degradation of the galK-specific mRNA, mK2, and Spot 42-mediated Rho-dependent transcription termination at the end of galT. Because the concentration of Spot 42 drops during the transition period of the polarity type switch, these results demonstrate that type 1 polarity is the result of alleviation of Spot 42-mediated galK down-regulation. Because the Spot 42-binding site overlaps with a putative Rho-binding site, a molecular mechanism is proposed to explain how Spot 42, possibly with Hfq, enhances Rho-mediated transcription termination at the end of galT.
Keywords: Rho-termination; Spot 42; galactose operon; sRNA; target mRNA degradation.