The asiA gene of bacteriophage T4 encodes a 10-kDa peptide which binds strongly in vitro to the sigma 70 subunit of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase, thereby weakening sigma 70-core interactions and inhibiting sigma 70-dependent transcription. To assess the physiological role of this protein, we have introduced an amber mutation into the proximal portion of the asiA gene. On suppressor-deficient hosts, this mutant phage (amS22) produces minute plaques and exhibits a pronounced delay in phage production. During these mutant infections, T4 DNA synthesis is strongly delayed, suggesting that the AsiA protein plays an important role during the prereplicative period of phage T4 development. The kinetics of protein synthesis show clearly that while T4 early proteins are synthesized normally, those expressed primarily via the middle mode exhibit a marked inhibition. In fact, the pattern of protein synthesis after amS22 infection resembles greatly that seen after infection by amG1, an amber mutant in motA, a T4 gene whose product is known to control middle mode RNA synthesis. The amber mutations in the motA and asiA genes complement, both for phage growth and for normal kinetics of middle mode protein synthesis. Furthermore, primer extension analyses show that three different MotA-dependent T4 middle promoters are not recognized after infection by the asiA mutant phage. Thus, in conjunction with the MotA protein, the AsiA protein is required for transcription activation at T4 middle mode promoters
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