The kil loci (kilA, kilB, kilC, and kilE) of incompatibility group P (IncP), broad-host-range plasmid RK2 were originally detected by their potential lethality to Escherichia coli host cells. Expression of the kil determinants is controlled by different combinations of kor functions (korA, korB, korC, and korE). This system of regulated genes, known as the kil-kor regulon, includes trfA, which encodes the RK2 replication initiator. The functions of the kil loci are unknown, but their coregulation with an essential replication function suggests that they have a role in the maintenance or host range of RK2. In this study, we have determined the nucleotide sequence of a 3-kb segment of RK2 that encodes the entire kilA locus. The region encodes three genes, designated klaA, klaB, and klaC. The phage T7 RNA polymerase-dependent expression system was use to identify three polypeptide products. The estimated masses of klaA and klaB products were in reasonable agreement with the calculated molecular masses of 28,407 and 42,156 Da, respectively. The klaC product is calculated to be 32,380 Da, but the observed polypeptide exhibited an apparent mass of 28 kDa on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gels. Mutants of klaC were used to confirm that initiation of translation of the observed product occurs at the first ATG in the klaC open reading frame. Hydrophobicity analysis indicated that the KlaA and KlaB polypeptides are likely to be soluble, whereas the KlaC polypeptide was predicted to have four potential membrane-spanning domains. The only recognizable promoter sequences in the kilA region were those of the kilA promoter located upstream of klaA and the promoter for the korA-korB operon located just downstream of a rho-independent terminatorlike sequence following klaC. The transcriptional start sites for these promoters were determined by primer extension. Using isogenic sets of plasmids with nonpolar mutations, we found that klaA, klaB, and klaC are each able to express a host-lethal (Kil+) phenotype in the absence of kor functions. Inactivation of the kilA promoter causes loss of the lethal phenotype, demonstrating that all three genes are expressed from the kilA promoter as a multicistronic operon. We investigated two other phenotypes that have been mapped to the kilA region of RK2 or the closely related IncP plasmids RP1 and RP4: inhibition of conjugal transfer of IncW plasmids (fwB) and resistance to potassium tellurite. The cloned kilA operon was found to express both phenotypes, even in the presence of korA and korB, whose functions are known to regulate the kilA promoter. In addition, mutant and complementation analyses showed that the kilA promoter and the products of all three kla genes are necessary for expression of both phenotypes. Therefore, host lethality, fertility inhibition, and tellurite resistance are all properties of the kilA operon. We discuss the possible role of the kilA operon for RK2
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