The transfer (tra) operon of the conjugative F plasmid of Escherichia coli is a polycistronic 33-kb operon which encodes most of the proteins necessary for F-plasmid transfer. Here, we report that transcription from PY, the tra operon promoter, is repressed by the host nucleoid-associated protein, H-NS. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays indicate that H-NS binds preferentially to the tra promoter region, while Northern blot and transcriptional fusion analyses indicate that transcription of traY, the first gene in the tra operon, is derepressed in an hns mutant throughout growth. The plasmid-encoded regulatory protein TraJ is essential for transcription of the tra operon in wild-type Escherichia coli; however, TraJ is not necessary for plasmid transfer or traY operon transcription in an hns mutant. This indicates that H-NS represses transcription from PY directly and not indirectly via its effects on TraJ levels. These results suggest that TraJ functions to disrupt H-NS silencing at PY, allowing transcription of the tra operon
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