Regulation of the Bacillus subtilis pyrimidine biosynthetic operon by transcriptional attenuation: control of gene expression by an mRNA-binding protein

Prog Nucleic Acid Res Mol Biol. 1999;62:329-67. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6603(08)60512-7.


The pyrimidine nucleotide biosynthetic (pyr) operon of Bacillus subtilis is regulated by a transcriptional attenuation mechanism in which termination of transcription at points upstream of the genes being regulated is promoted by the binding of a regulatory protein, PyrR, to specific sequences in the pyr mRNA. Binding of PyrR to pyr mRNA is stimulated by uridine nucleotides and causes changes in the mRNA secondary structure. This model is supported by extensive molecular genetic analysis. PyrR, which is encoded by the first gene of the pyr operon, is also a uracil phosphoribosyltransferase, although it has little amino acid sequence resemblance to other bacterial uracil phosphoribosyltransferases. Purified B. subtilis pyrR promotes attenuation of pyr transcription in vitro and binds specifically to pyr RNA sequences. The crystallographic structure of PyrR demonstrates the similarity of its tertiary structure to other phosphoribosyltransferases and suggests the surface to which RNA binds. PyrR is widely distributed among eubacteria and appears to regulate pyr genes not only by the attenuation mechanism found in B. subtilis, but also by a coupled transcription-translation attenuation mechanism and by acting as a translational repressor. PyrR illustrates the concept that transcriptional attenuation is a much more widespread and mechanistically versatile mechanism for the regulation of gene expression in bacteria than is generally recognized.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Operon*
  • Pyrimidines / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Pyrimidines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA-Binding Proteins