The 5' untranslated region (UTR) of the Escherichia coli ompA transcript functions in vivo as a growth rate-regulated mRNA stabilizer. The secondary structure of this mRNA segment has been determined by a combination of three methods: phylogenetic analysis, in vitro probing with a structure-specific RNase, and methylation by dimethylsulfate in vivo and in vitro. These studies reveal that despite extensive sequence differences, the 5' UTRs of the ompA transcripts of E. coli, Serratia marcescens, and Enterobacter aerogenes can fold in a remarkably similar fashion. Furthermore, the Serratia and Enterobacter ompA 5' UTRs function as effective mRNA stabilizers in E. coli. Stabilization of mRNA by the Serratia ompA 5' UTR is growth rate dependent. These findings indicate that the features of the ompA 5' UTR responsible for its ability to stabilize mRNA in a growth rate-regulated manner are to be found among the structural similarities shared by these diverse evolutionary variants
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