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J Bacteriol. 2010 February; 192(4): 942–948.
Published online 2009 November 20. doi:  10.1128/JB.01259-09
PMCID: PMC2812966

This article has been retractedRetraction in: J Bacteriol. 2011 May; 193(10): 2674    See also: PMC Retraction Policy

GyrA Interacts with MarR To Reduce Repression of the marRAB Operon in Escherichia coli[down-pointing small open triangle]


Bacterial two-hybrid studies of randomly cloned Escherichia coli DNA identified a physical interaction between GyrA, subunit A of gyrase, and MarR, a repressor of the marRAB operon. GyrA-His immobilized on Ni-nitrilotriacetic acid (NiNTA) resin bound MarR, while MarR alone did not bind. GyrA interfered with MarR binding to marO, as detected by electrophoretic mobility assays. In a strain bearing the marRAB operon and a marO-lacZ reporter, overexpression of GyrA increased LacZ activity, indicating decreased repression of marO-lacZ by MarR. These results were confirmed by an increased survival of cells treated with quinolones and other antibiotics when GyrA was overexpressed. This work, like a previous study examining TktA (12), shows that unrelated proteins can regulate MarR activity. The findings reveal an unexpected regulatory function of GyrA in antibiotic resistance.

Bacterial DNA gyrase is an important target of antibacterial agents, particularly the quinolones. This enzyme introduces negative supercoils into DNA, which is essential for transcription because it promotes local melting to allow initiation by RNA polymerase and replication by DNA polymerase (for a review, see reference 25). Gyrase catalyzes transient double-strand breaks, crossing the strands through one another and then healing the breaks, using the energy of ATP (15).

The marRAB operon specifies MarR, an autorepressor of the operon, and MarA, an autoactivator, which also regulates expression of at least 80 other genes (the mar regulon) (7, 8, 28). Some of these genes are critical to multiple-drug resistance (5, 22, 24) and virulence (9). The large MarR family of regulatory proteins is conserved widely among bacteria (4, 11, 31). All family members have a common DNA-binding structure, the winged helix-turn-helix (HTH) motif, which binds to palindromic or pseudopalindromic sites (6). For numerous homologs, this association is altered by specific small molecules. MarR in Escherichia coli is inactivated when bound to salicylic acid, leading to increased marRAB expression and drug resistance (2). OhrR, a homologue of MarR in Xanthomonas campestris, represses the expression of the ohr gene, which encodes a peroxidase that reduces hydrogen peroxide. The binding of hydrogen peroxide to OhrR modulates the rigid rotation of the winged HTH motifs, thereby derepressing or activating the transcription of the ohr gene (23).

We have shown that MarR activity can also be regulated by interaction with another protein, transketolase A (TktA). This enzyme of central metabolism, upregulated by oxidative stress conditions, interferes with MarR activity, allowing the overexpression of the marRAB operon and increased drug resistance during oxidative stress (12). The repressor MexR, another MarR family member from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, has been shown by structural studies to be repressed by ArmR, an antirepressor peptide that prevents MexR from binding to DNA (30).

In this report, we demonstrate direct inhibition of MarR activity by physical interaction with a second enzyme, GyrA, with subsequent induction of multiple-drug resistance.


Bacterial strains, plasmids, and growth conditions.

The bacterial strains and plasmids used in the study are described in Table Table1.1. Bacteria were grown at 37°C in Luria-Bertani (LB) medium (per liter, 10 g of tryptone, 5 g of yeast extract, 5 g of NaCl) or on agar containing M9 minimal medium (32) or LB medium. The final concentrations of the selective antibiotics (Sigma-Aldrich) were as follows: ampicillin (Amp) and kanamycin (Km), 50 μg·ml−1 each, and streptomycin (St), 25 μg·ml−1.

Bacterial strains and plasmids used in this study

The two-hybrid assay.

The bacterial two-hybrid system was based on the functional reconstitution of adenylate cyclase (cya) activity from Bordetella pertussis in the cya-deficient E. coli strain BTH101 (19). MarR lacking its stop codon was cloned into the pUT18 vector bearing the gene for the C-terminal T18 fragment (amino acids 225 to 339 of cya). Similarly, gyrA without its methionine initiation codon was inserted in the pKT25 plasmid specifying the N-terminal T25 fragment (amino acids 1 to 224 of cya). These procedures yielded the in-frame marR-T18 and T25-gyrA translation fusions. Positive interactions between the T18 and T25 gene products were detected by the blue color of bacterial colonies of BTH01 cells cotransformed with pUT18-GyrA and pKT25-MarR on LB medium supplemented with 40 μg·ml−1 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-β-d-galactopyranoside (X-Gal) and 0.5 mM isopropyl-β-d-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) after 2 days at 30°C. Ampicillin and kanamycin were added to maintain the two plasmids, and streptomycin was added to select for the host strain. In the absence of interaction or in the negative controls, the colonies were white.

DNA sequencing.

PCR-amplified DNA products from all clones were purified with the QIAQuick PCR purification kit (Qiagen) and sequenced by the Tufts University Core Facility.

MarR purification.

MarR was purified from 50 ml of E. coli BL21(DE3) cells containing pETmarR freshly grown in LB broth (2). Cells were induced at an A600 of 0.3 with 0.5 mM IPTG for 3 h, harvested by centrifugation, resuspended in 2 ml of 100 mM cold sodium phosphate (pH 7.4), and sonicated for 2 min. Unbroken cells and membranes were removed by centrifugation for 45 min at 14,000 × g at 4°C. MarR was purified by ion exchange chromatography on a sulfopropyl-Sepharose HiTrap column (Pharmacia Biotech, Piscataway, NJ), with elution by 300 to 400 μM NaCl. The purified protein was dialyzed against 500 volumes of buffer A (10 mM potassium phosphate buffer, pH 6.8) overnight at 4°C. MarR was 90% pure, based on Coomassie blue-stained SDS-PAGE, and was stored at −80°C until use.

GyrA-His cloning and purification.

The gyrA gene was cloned between the NdeI and XhoI sites of pET-21b (Novagen) to give a C-terminal His tag and was overexpressed in strain E. coli BL21(DE3). A total of 500 ml of cells in LB medium were induced at an A600 of 0.3 with 0.5 mM IPTG for 3 h, then harvested by centrifugation, and resuspended in 20 ml of cold buffer B (300 mM sodium chloride, 50 mM sodium phosphate, and 10 mM imidazole [pH 8.0]). After the cells were disrupted using a French pressure cell at 14,000 lb/in2, unbroken cells and membranes were removed by centrifugation for 45 min at 14,000 × g at 4°C. GyrA-His was purified on nickel-nitrilotriacetic (NiNTA) bead columns (Qiagen) in buffer B with elution at 50 mM imidazole. The purified protein was dialyzed against 500 volumes of buffer A overnight at 4°C and stored at −80°C.

In vitro interaction of MarR with GyrA by the histidine pulldown assay.

A total of 10 μg (100 pmol) GyrA-His and then 5 μg (300 pmol) MarR purified (as described above) proteins each in 1 ml buffer A were introduced sequentially onto an NiNTA column and incubated overnight at 4°C. The column was washed sequentially with 50, 75, 100, and 125 mM imidazole. The eluted proteins were resolved by SDS-PAGE in denaturing conditions, i.e., with SDS and β-mercaptoethanol in the loading mix, and visualized with Coomassie brilliant blue. As reported for other proteins (27), staining of the 2 proteins by Coomassie blue was not proportional to their amount. Consequently, the ratios were determined by the amount of protein introduced into the gels. As a negative control, the interaction of MarR protein alone with NiNTA measured any nonspecific binding (12).

Test for MarR function using a marO-lacZ fusion.

β-Galactosidase (β-Gal) assays were performed on E. coli SPC105 cells permeabilized with chloroform-SDS (16). These data were recorded as the mean value of four measurements performed on two independent replicates of cellular extracts (1 β-Gal unit = 1 nmol of o-nitrophenyl-β-D-galactopyranoside (ONPG) min−1, A6001).

Survival during drug treatment.

E. coli SPC105 derivatives, with or without specific plasmids, were grown at 37°C to mid-exponential (A600 = 0.3) phase in M9 medium with 0.4% glucose containing the appropriate antibiotics. Various amounts of drugs, nalidixic acid (Nal), norfloxacin (Nor), chloramphenicol (Cm), and tetracycline (Tc), were then added as indicated, and the strain was incubated for 3 h at 37°C. Survival of cells was determined on a sample of the culture plated on an LB agar plate. After overnight incubation at 37°C, the number of colonies on drug-containing medium was counted and compared to the number of colonies on drug-free medium to obtain the percent survival (see Table Table33).

Effect of GyrA on antibiotic susceptibility of strain SPC105

Electrophoretic mobility shift assays.

A 198-bp DNA fragment containing the entire PmarII-marO region from positions −192 to +8 relative to the transcriptional start site of marR was made by PCR. The DNA binding reaction was performed in a final volume of 10 μl, containing a buffer (100 mM sodium phosphate, pH 6.8), soluble proteins (MarR with TktA or GyrA), and 2 pmol of the DNA fragment. The reaction mixtures were incubated at room temperature for 30 min and then subjected to electrophoresis in 12% polyacrylamide gels in Tris-borate-EDTA (TBE) buffer at 100 V for 1 h at 4°C. The gels were processed, and detection of DNA was performed after 5-min staining in 0.25 mg·liter−1 ethidium bromide.

DNA gyrase assay.

One unit (120 pmol) of E. coli DNA gyrase and 0.5 μg of pUC19 DNA relaxed by topoisomerase I (both from New England Biolabs) were mixed with or without 250 pmol MarR in 30 μl reaction buffer containing 35 mM Tris-HCl, 24 mM KCl, 4 mM MgCl2, 2 mM dithiothreitol (DTT), 1.75 mM ATP, 5 mM spermidine, 0.1 mg/ml bovine serum albumin, 6.5% glycerol at pH 7.5. After incubation for 30 min at 37°C, the degree of DNA supercoiling, with or without GyrA and/or MarR, was assessed by agarose gel electrophoresis with 0.8% separation at 30 V, stained by 0.25 mg·liter−1 ethidium bromide without SDS and EDTA.


Two-hybrid studies show that GyrA binds to MarR; a MarR G95S mutation prevents GyrA binding.

Using random cloning into a bacterial two-hybrid system (18), we initially identified 48 putative partners of MarR. One of those, TktA, was further shown to directly interact with MarR and interfere with its activity (12). We now report studies of a second partner, GyrA, the subunit A of gyrase, which was also identified by the two-hybrid system (Table (Table22).

Two-hybrid interactions between MarR and GyrA identified by LacZ activity (blue colonies)a

MarR mutations have already been characterized in relation to DNA binding (disturbing, Arg77His and Gly116Ser; and enhancing, Asp26Asn, Gly95Ser, and Leu135Phe [also called superrepressor mutations]) or to failed dimerization (Ser35Phe/Pro35Ser) (1, 3). These mutations were individually introduced into the marR gene on the pKT25 plasmid and tested in the two-hybrid system with wild-type gyrA cloned into pUT18. Of the mutants tested, only the MarR Gly95Ser mutant, converting the glycine at position 95 to serine, failed to associate with GyrA, producing only white colonies on LB agar-X-Gal (Table (Table2).2). This mutation was different from the one (Asp26Asn) which interferes with the MarR-TktA interaction (12) but, like the former, was a superrepressor mutation that did not disturb directly the interface of the DNA binding or MarR dimerization (1, 3). Thus, the interaction between MarR and GyrA is different from that with TktA.

GyrA interacts with MarR in vitro.

The in vitro histidine pulldown method was used to confirm the physical interaction between GyrA and MarR (see Materials and Methods). GyrA-His was overexpressed from the pET21b vector and purified on a nickel nitrilotriacetic column. MarR alone did not bind to the nickel column and appeared in the flowthrough and the first two washes (Fig. (Fig.1A,1A, lanes FT, W1, and W2). However, MarR applied to the nickel column with GyrA-His was retained by the column and was eluted along with GyrA-His by 75 to 100 mM imidazole (Fig. (Fig.1B,1B, lanes E1 to E3).

FIG. 1.
Histidine pulldown experiments. SDS-PAGE analysis of the interaction in vitro between purified MarR and GyrA-His. (A) MarR alone was loaded on a nickel column and washed, and any bound proteins were eluted with imidazole. Lanes: S, sample of MarR (5 μg) ...

GyrA and TktA interfere with MarR binding to DNA in vitro.

The electrophoretic mobility of the DNA-protein complex marO-MarR with or without GyrA was examined. We verified, as a control, that the DNA probe containing the marO sequence was shifted by MarR protein, which formed the complex MarR-marO (Fig. 2A and B, lane 2). When an increased amount of purified TktA was added to the mix containing purified MarR and the DNA probe marO, the shift was gradually eliminated (Fig. (Fig.2A,2A, lanes 3, 4, and 5). TktA alone had no effect on the migration of the DNA probe (Fig. (Fig.2A,2A, lane 6). These results showed that TktA interfered with MarR binding to marO in vitro, confirming previous in vivo results (12).

FIG. 2.
Effect of GyrA and TktA on MarR DNA binding activity in vitro. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays in phosphate buffer (pH 6.8) of different mixes, as described in Materials and Methods. DNA probe marO (2 pmol), MarR (30 pmol), TktA (120 pmol), and ...

In the case of GyrA, migration of the DNA probe was shifted by GyrA itself because of the natural high affinity of GyrA to DNA (Fig. (Fig.2B,2B, lane 5). The GyrA-marO complex migrated faster than the MarR-marO complex (Fig. (Fig.2B,2B, lane 5 compared to lane 2). The migration rate of these complexes depends on both the molecular weight (MW) and charge of the protein. The higher the MW of the protein, the slower the complex will migrate; the more positively charged the protein, the faster the complex will migrate. MarR (MW [in thousands] of 16) is smaller than GyrA (MW of 96), but GyrA is highly negatively charged in the TBE buffer, pH 6.8; the isoelectric point (pI) of GyrA is calculated at 4.8 compared to MarR with a pI at 8.4. This probably explains why the complex GyrA-marO, although having a greater MW than MarR-marO, migrated faster in the acrylamide gel.

The amount of GyrA needed to block MarR binding to DNA was evaluated by adding increasing amounts of GyrA (25, 50, and 100 pmol) to a mix of marO DNA probe (2 pmol) and MarR (30 pmol). When increasing amounts of GyrA were added to the mix of purified MarR and the DNA probe, the shift caused by MarR was gradually eliminated and replaced by a shift at the level of the complex GyrA-marO and some nonshifted DNA. This result may be explained by the formation of a MarR-GyrA complex unable to shift the DNA. Therefore, like TktA, GyrA interfered with the binding of MarR to marO in vitro.

GyrA affects MarR repression of marO-lacZ.

In SPC105, the reporter gene lacZ under the control of marO is directly repressed by MarR, specified by the endogenous marRAB operon (10). Different levels of active MarR can be evaluated by measuring β-galactosidase activity. SPC105 presented an easily detectable basal level of lacZ expression when fully repressed. A deletion of gyrA cannot be constructed since GyrA is essential for cell survival (for a review, see reference 25), but by using the pDrive-Egyr241/223 plasmid (17), we can artificially decrease the amount of gyrA transcript. Under the control of IPTG, two antisense oligonucleotides of the gyrA gene with a specific sequence which catalyzes self-cleavage are expressed. On the other hand, we can also overexpress GyrA in SPC105 using the high-copy-number expression plasmid pSPOK-gyrA induced by IPTG (21). Only the subunit GyrA of the gyrase was overexpressed, to avoid increased supercoiling (which requires the gyrase complex GyrAB).

SPC105 bearing plasmid pSPOK-gyrA showed a relative 1.6 (±0.1)-fold increase in LacZ activity compared to SPC105 alone. SPC105 bearing plasmid pDrive-EGyr241/223 showed a relative 0.8 (±0.1)-fold decrease compared to SPC105 alone (SPC105, 147 ± 8 Miller units; pSPOK-gyrA, 231 ± 9 Miller units; pDrive-EGyr241/223, 116 ± 6 Miller units), indicating a small but reproducible modulation in MarR repression of marRAB operon transcription, caused by GyrA. In these experiments, cell survival was not altered, indicating that, although overexpressing or decreasing GyrA affected MarR repression, neither was detrimental to the cell (Table (Table33).

Effect of GyrA on antibiotic susceptibility.

To determine if GyrA's interaction with MarR led to the expected increased antibiotic resistance, we examined the numbers of surviving bacteria during an antibiotic treatment with or without increased (pSPOK-gyrA) or decreased (pDrive-gyrA) GyrA amounts. Four antibiotics were tested: the quinolones (Nal and Nor), Cm, and Tc. Overexpressed GyrA from the pSPOK-gyrA vector caused the cells to become more resistant to Nal and Nor; there was no effect at 100 μM Nal but a fourfold increase in resistance at 400 μM and a 2.5-fold increase at 1.5 μM Nor (Table (Table3).3). Overexpressing GyrA also increased cell survival to nonquinolone antibiotics to a maximum of 2.1-fold for Cm and 3.6-fold for Tc compared to the host alone (Table (Table3).3). In contrast, decreasing GyrA expression dramatically reduced cell survival against the quinolone (less than 15% survival) (Table (Table3)3) but also against the other antibiotics by half (Cm from 88% to 45% and Tc 90% to 37%). These findings suggest that increasing the cellular amount of GyrA increases resistance to multiple drugs via an increase in expression of the marRAB operon and that decreasing GyrA decreases the multiple-drug resistance via the same path. The effect presumably occurs by efflux of antibiotics via acrAB-tolC expression induced by MarA (8), whose production in turn is increased when GyrA binds MarR.

To verify the hypothesis that the modulation of MarA expression is the ultimate cause of the increased or decreased survival, we performed the same test on a mutant from which marA was deleted and compared the drug susceptibilities of the ΔmarA mutant with altered production of GyrA (Table (Table4).4). As expected, no change in susceptibility was observed against quinolone or Tc or Cm with a mutant with a decreased amount of GyrA. However, surprisingly, increasing gyrA expression in a ΔmarA mutant increased the susceptibility of the cell to quinolones but not to Cm or Tc. The source of this MarA-independent effect is not known. In any case, these findings demonstrated that the increased resistance to antibiotics following increasing amounts of GyrA required increased MarA expression via a GyrA-mediated decrease in MarR activity.

Effect of GyrA on antibiotic susceptibility of SPC105 deleted of marA

No effect of MarR on gyrase activity.

The results described above indicated that MarR activity was reduced by GyrA; the reverse was also tested. The activity of intact gyrase (A2B2) was assayed with purified gyrase protein, MarR, and a substrate pUC19 relaxed (see Materials and Methods).

In the control, MarR alone had no effect on pUC19 relaxed (Fig. (Fig.3,3, lane 2). Gyrase alone was able to convert relaxed pUC19 to supercoiled (Fig. (Fig.3,3, lane 3). When MarR was added at a molar ratio of 2:1 with gyrase (4:1 was also tested with the same result), the supercoiling activity still occurred (Fig. (Fig.3,3, lane 4). Therefore, MarR did not affect gyrase activity, even when using concentrations similar to those which shifted marO in the electrophoretic mobility assays (Fig. (Fig.3).3). There was a small shift of migration observed between gyrase and DNA (lane 3) and a mix of all three (lane 4) (DNA, MarR, and gyrase). Perhaps the complex MarR-GyrA can bind to the pUC19 DNA, slowing the migration compared to that of GyrA-DNA alone.

FIG. 3.
Effect of MarR on gyrase activity. The mix constituents are 0.5 μg of pUC19 relaxed, 1 unit (120 pmol) of purified E. coli DNA gyrase (4.1 μM) and 250 pmol (8 μg) of purified MarR (8.3 μM). Samples were incubated at 37°C ...


MarR activity is regulated by chemical compounds such as salicylate (2) and at least one protein, the enzyme TktA. Our results add a second MarR protein modulator, GyrA, identified among 48 putative partners revealed by the two-hybrid method. Thus, MarR responds to both internal and external stimuli.

As in previous studies (14), artificially increasing the amount of GyrA in the cell increased resistance to quinolones, which might at first be attributed simply to an increase in the amount of the quinolone target GyrA. However, resistance was also greater to nonquinolone antibiotics Tc and Cm, which are not known to affect GyrA. The increasing resistance to nonquinolone antibiotics and perhaps also partly to quinolones resulted from GyrA inactivation of MarR and consequent increased expression of MarA and the AcrAB-TolC multidrug efflux pump. This finding was not present in a MarA deletion mutant.

Quinolones inhibit gyrase activity by trapping it in an intermediate reaction in which the double-stranded DNA is broken. Ten thousand GyrA-specific binding sites on the E. coli genome have been described (13), but none is present in the marRAB DNA region. This genomic region, in the case of an attack of quinolones, would not be the first target for double-strand cuts.

The mechanism of regulation by MarR has been described for two MarR homologues. The basic principle is the intrinsic conformational flexibility of their structure (23, 30), largely caused by the plasticity of loops within the dimerization domain. With binding by peptide (ArmR) in the case of MexR (30) or hydrogen peroxide for OhrR (23), it was speculated that such binding modifies the spacing between the two DNA binding domains of MarR homologues. A large space allows optimum binding to the DNA, and binding of a modulator to MarR produces a reduction of this space and breaks the interaction of MarR with the DNA. The case of OhrR regulation by peroxide cannot be applied to MarR regulation by salicylate, since the peroxides react with cysteines in OhrR that are not found in MarR. Alignment of MexR and MarR reveals that none of the amino acids essential for the interactions between MexR and its effector (ArmR peptide) is conserved in MarR. Reciprocally, when we compared the sequence of ArmR, particularly the portion which binds to MexR, with GyrA or TktA, no common motif was found. Therefore, even if the mechanisms of inactivation seem to be the same, the bindings of the modulators are different.

We found that only one of seven tested MarR mutations, namely, Gly95Ser, a superrepressor mutation, prevented the interaction between MarR and GyrA. The other superrepressor mutations (Asp26Asn and Leu135Phe) did not. Other mutants which decreased DNA binding or dimerization still allowed the GyrA-MarR interaction. Glycine95 is not present in the DNA binding region, but the serine mutant still increased DNA binding of MarR (3). Published structures of MarR homologues suggest that a MarR superrepressor could be fixed in a DNA-binding conformation, having a reduced flexibility. That might explain the decreased affinity with the modulator in this conformation.

While the Gly95Ser mutation interfered with GyrA interaction, it had no effect on TktA interaction, which was blocked by the MarR Asp26Asn mutation (12). Thus, two different MarR mutations, each resulting in a superrepressor MarR, break the interactions with two different partners. This surprising finding suggests two dissimilar blocked conformations of these two mutants, one of which allows the interaction with GyrA but not the other. No common sequence motif between the GyrA and TktA proteins was found.

An electrophoretic mobility test showed that even with an excess of the MarR protein (250 pmol) compared to gyrase (120 pmol), gyrase was still able to supercoil the DNA. Like TktA on MarR, the regulation seems to be only in one direction; GyrA inhibits MarR activity, but MarR had no effect on GyrA activity.

The interaction between MarR and GyrA adds a second example of a “trigger” enzyme in E. coli, a protein with at least two functions: one a main enzymatic function, supercoiling DNA, and a second regulatory function, repressing MarR. The list of such examples is growing, with recent examples in Bacillus subtilis (CymR [29] and YrkP [26]) and in E. coli (DcuB [20]).


We thank D. Ladant for providing the strains (BTH101) and the plasmids (pKT25, pUT18) for the two-hybrid system, Sidney Altman for providing the pEGyr241/223 plasmid, and Xiaowen R. Bina for providing plasmid pSPOK-gyrA and for initially noting a GyrA-MarR interaction using the two-hybrid system. We thank Laura McMurry for stimulating discussion.

This work was supported by NIH grant AI56021.


[down-pointing small open triangle]Published ahead of print on 20 November 2009.


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