We have for the first time characterized the heat shock response in mycobacteria both at the level of transcription, by RNA extraction, Northern (RNA) blotting, and hybridization with gene-specific probes for the Mycobacterium tuberculosis 65- and 71-kDa heat shock proteins (HSPs), and at the level of translation, by [35S]methionine labelling, sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and autoradiography. We observed increased synthesis of 40-, 65-, 71-, and 90-kDa proteins, which appear to be major HSPs in mycobacteria. The 40-, 71-, and 90-kDa HSPs are coordinately regulated in terms of temperature requirements and kinetics of induction but differ in the levels of expression. The 65- and 71-kDa HSPs are differentially regulated in response to temperature, with different kinetics and levels of induction. mRNA transcript sizes for the 71-, 65-, 40-, and 30-kDa proteins were found to be broadly consistent with DNA sequence open reading frames. A maximum increase of about 69-fold in the levels of mRNA for the 71-kDa HSP after 45 min of heat shock at 45 degrees C was observed, whereas the 65-kDa HSP mRNA increased only 5-fold. It was also found that in M. bovis BCG, as in Escherichia coli, a major control mechanism of the heat shock response is operative at the level of transcription. An ability to characterize the heat shock response in mycobacteria provides an experimental model with which to study environmentally regulated gene expression and an opportunity to identify virulence genes, which may coregulate as part of the heat shock regulon
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