Host-inhibitory functions encoded by promiscuous plasmids. Transient arrest of Escherichia coli segregants that fail to inherit plasmid RK2

J Mol Biol. 1994 Mar 18;237(1):52-64. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1994.1208.


An effective strategy for a plasmid to be maintained in a growing population of bacteria is to prevent the proliferation of newly formed daughter cells that lack the plasmid. In this study, we determined that the promiscuous, incompatibility group P plasmid RK2 encodes such a system. To induce large numbers of RK2-free segregants of an RK2-containing host, we designed a genetic system that made RK2 replication temperature-sensitive. A double amber mutant of the trfA replication initiator gene was constructed to complement a trfA deletion mutant of an otherwise wild-type RK2 in an Escherichia coli supD(Ts) strain. At the permissive temperature (30 degrees C), RK2 was maintained stably in the strain. Shifting the cells to the non-permissive temperature (42 degrees C) resulted in the nearly synchronous appearance of cells lacking RK2. We found that the number of viable cells rose only slowly over a period of six hours, during which time the cells formed long filaments reaching 20 to 40 times the length of a normal E. coli cell. After six hours, the arrested cells regained the ability to divide and multiply exponentially, and the filaments were eventually reduced to normal-sized cells. Neither arrest nor filamentation required the host recA function. Inhibiting the replication of an RK2 mutant deleted for the par stability locus also induced the arrest of segregants lacking the plasmid, but the arrested cells were not filamented. Our results demonstrate that RK2 encodes at least two functions that are activated in a plasmidless segregant: (1) a filamentation-inducing function specified by the par stability locus, and (2) a post-segregational arrest function (psa) that inhibits the proliferation of plasmidless segregants independent of par. We discuss the possible roles of these functions in the stable maintenance of RK2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Division / genetics
  • DNA Replication*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Plasmids*
  • Recombination, Genetic*