The Integron: Adaptation On Demand

Microbiol Spectr. 2015 Apr;3(2):MDNA3-0019-2014. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.MDNA3-0019-2014.


The integron is a powerful system which, by capturing, stockpiling, and rearranging new functions carried by gene encoding cassettes, confers upon bacteria a rapid adaptation capability in changing environments. Chromosomally located integrons (CI) have been identified in a large number of environmental Gram-negative bacteria. Integron evolutionary history suggests that these sedentary CIs acquired mobility among bacterial species through their association with transposable elements and conjugative plasmids. As a result of massive antibiotic use, these so-called mobile integrons are now widespread in clinically relevant bacteria and are considered to be the principal agent in the emergence and rise of antibiotic multiresistance in Gram-negative bacteria. Cassette rearrangements are catalyzed by the integron integrase, a site-specific tyrosine recombinase. Central to these reactions is the single-stranded DNA nature of one of the recombination partners, the attC site. This makes the integron a unique recombination system. This review describes the current knowledge on this atypical recombination mechanism, its implications in the reactions involving the different types of sites, attC and attI, and focuses on the tight regulation exerted by the host on integron activity through the control of attC site folding. Furthermore, cassette and integrase expression are also highly controlled by host regulatory networks and the bacterial stress (SOS) response. These intimate connections to the host make the integron a genetically stable and efficient system, granting the bacteria a low cost, highly adaptive evolution potential "on demand".

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Attachment Sites, Microbiological
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics*
  • Integrons*
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences
  • Recombination, Genetic