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Alleviation of EcoK DNA restriction in Escherichia coli and involvement of umuDC activity


The activity of the EcoK DNA restriction system of Escherichia coli reduces both the plating efficiency of unmodified phage λ and the transforming ability of unmodified pBR322 plasmid DNA. However, restriction can be alleviated in wild-type cells, by UV irradiation and expression of the SOS response, so that 103-to 104-fold increases in phage growth and fourfold increases in plasmid transformation occurred with unmodified DNA. Restriction alleviation was found to be a transient effect because induced cells, which initially failed to restrict unmodified plasmid DNA, later restricted unmodified phage λ. Although the SOS response was needed for restriction alleviation, constitutive SOS induction, elicited genetically with a recA730 mutation, did not alleviate restriction and UV irradiation was still needed. A hitherto unsuspected involvement of the umuDC operon in this alleviation of restriction is characterized and, by differential complementation, was separated from the better known role of umuDC in mutagenic DNA repair. The need for cleavage of UmuD for restriction alleviation was shown with plasmids encoding cleavable, cleaved, and non-cleavable forms of UmuD. However, UV irradiation was still needed even when cleaved UmuD was provided. The possibility that restriction alleviation occurs by a general inhibition of the EcoK restriction/modification complex was tested and discounted because modification of λ was not reduced by UV irradiation. An alternative idea, that restriction activity was competitively reduced by an increase in EcoK modification, was also discounted by the lack of any increase in the modification of λRal, a naturally undermodified phage. Other possible mechanisms for restriction alleviation are discussed.

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Correspondence to Kevin J. Hiom.

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Communicated by R. Devoret

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Hiom, K.J., Sedgwick, S.G. Alleviation of EcoK DNA restriction in Escherichia coli and involvement of umuDC activity. Molec. Gen. Genet. 231, 265–275 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00279800

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Key words

  • Restriction alleviation
  • EcoK restriction and modification
  • umuDC
  • SOS induction