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J Bacteriol. 1989 January; 171(1): 222–229.
PMCID: PMC209576

Homologous metalloregulatory proteins from both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria control transcription of mercury resistance operons.


We report the overexpression, purification, and properties of the regulatory protein, MerR, for a chromosomally encoded mercury resistance determinant from Bacillus strain RC607. This protein is similar in sequence to the metalloregulatory proteins encoded by gram-negative resistance determinants found on transposons Tn21 and Tn501 and to a predicted gene product of a Staphylococcus aureus resistance determinant. In vitro DNA-binding and transcription experiments were used to demonstrate those purified Bacillus MerR protein controls transcription from a promoter-operator site similar in sequence to that found in the transposon resistance determinants. The Bacillus MerR protein bound in vitro to its promoter-operator region in both the presence and absence of mercuric ion and functioned as a negative and positive regulator of transcription. The MerR protein bound less tightly to its operator region (ca. 50- to 100-fold) in the presence of mercuric ion; this reduced affinity was largely accounted for by an increased rate of dissociation of the MerR protein from the DNA. Despite this reduced DNA-binding affinity, genetic and biochemical evidence support a model in which the MerR protein-mercuric ion complex is a positive regulator of operon transcription. Although the Bacillus MerR protein bound only weakly to the heterologous Tn501 operator region, the Tn501 and Tn21 MerR proteins bound with high affinity to the Bacillus promoter-operator region and exhibited negative, but not positive, transcriptional control.

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