Mobile gene cassettes and integrons: capture and spread of genes by site-specific recombination

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Feb;15(4):593-600. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.tb02368.x.


An integron is a genetic unit that includes the determinants of the components of a site-specific recombination system capable of capturing and mobilizing genes that are contained in mobile elements called gene cassettes. An integron also provides a promoter for expression of the cassette genes, and integrons thus act both as natural cloning systems and as expression vectors. The essential components of an integron are an int gene encoding a site-specific recombinase belonging to the integrase family, an adjacent site, attI, that is recognized by the integrase and is the receptor site for the cassettes, and a promoter suitably oriented for expression of the cassette-encoded genes. The cassettes are mobile elements that include a gene (most commonly an antibiotic-resistance gene) and an integrase-specific recombination site that is a member of a family of sites known as 59-base elements. Cassettes can exist either free in a circularized form or integrated at the attI site, and only when integrated is a cassette formally part of an integron. A single site-specific recombination event involving the integron-associated attI site and a cassette-associated 59-base element leads to insertion of a free circular cassette into a recipient integron. Multiple cassette insertions can occur, and integrons containing several cassettes have been found in the wild. The integrase also catalyses excisive recombination events that can lead to loss of cassettes from an itegron and generate free circular cassettes. Due to their ability to acquire new genes, integrons have a clear role in the evolution of the genomes of the plasmids and transposons that contain them.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillosis
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases / genetics
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases / physiology
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Integrases
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • Integrases