The genome-wide distribution of non-B DNA motifs is shaped by operon structure and suggests the transcriptional importance of non-B DNA structures inEscherichia coli

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Although the right-handed double helical B-form DNA is most common under physiological conditions, DNA is dynamic and can adopt a number of alternative structures, such as the four-stranded G-quadruplex, left-handed Z-DNA, cruciform and others. Active transcription necessitates strand separation and can induce such non-canonical forms at susceptible genomic sequences. Therefore, it has been speculated that these non-B DNA motifs can play regulatory roles in gene transcription. Such conjecture has been supported in higher eukaryotes by direct studies of several individual genes, as well as a number of large-scale analyses. However, the role of non-B DNA structures in many lower organisms, in particular proteobacteria, remains poorly understood and incompletely documented. In this study, we performed the first comprehensive study of the occurrence of B DNA–non-B DNA transition-susceptible sites (non-B DNA motifs) within the context of the operon structure of the Escherichia coli genome. We compared the distributions of non-B DNA motifs in the regulatory regions of operons with those from internal regions. We found an enrichment of some non-B DNA motifs in regulatory regions, and we show that this enrichment cannot be simply explained by base composition bias in these regions. We also showed that the distribution of several non-B DNA motifs within intergenic regions separating divergently oriented operons differs from the distribution found between convergent ones. In particular, we found a strong enrichment of cruciforms in the termination region of operons; this enrichment was observed for operons with Rho-dependent, as well as Rho-independent terminators. Finally, a preference for some non-B DNA motifs was observed near transcription factor-binding sites. Overall, the conspicuous enrichment of transition-susceptible sites in these specific regulatory regions suggests that non-B DNA structures may have roles in the transcriptional regulation of specific operons within the E. coli genome.

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