Inferring regulatory elements from a whole genome. An analysis of Helicobacter pylori sigma(80) family of promoter signals

Anne Vanet, Laurent Marsan, Agnès Labigne and Marie-France Sagot
Journal of Molecular Biology, 297:335-353, 2000

Helicobacter pylori is adapted to life in a unique niche, the gastric epithelium of primates. Its promoters may therefore be different from those of other bacteria. Here, we determine motifs possibly involved in the recognition of such promoter sequences by the RNA polymerase using a new motif identification method. An important feature of this method is that the motifs are sought with the least possible assumptions about what they may look like. The method starts by considering the whole genome of H. pylori and attempts to infer directly from it a description for a family of promoters. Thus, this approach differs from searching for such promoters with a previously established description. The two algorithms are based on the idea of inferring motifs by flexibly comparing words in the sequences with an external object, instead of between themselves. The first algorithm infers single motifs, the second a combination of two motifs separated from one another by strictly defined, sterically constrained distances. Besides independently finding motifs known to be present in other bacteria, such as the Shine-Dalgarno sequence and the TATA-box, this approach suggests the existence in H. pylori of a new, combined motif, TTAAGC, followed optimally 21 bp downstream by TATAAT. Between these two motifs, there is in some cases another, TTTTAA or, less frequently, a repetition of TTAAGC separated optimally from the TATA-box by 12 bp. The combined motif TTAAGCx(21+/-2)TATAAT is present with no errors immediately upstream from the only two copies of the ribosomal 23 S-5 S RNA genes in H. pylori, and with one error upstream from the only two copies of the ribosomal 16 S RNA genes. The operons of both ribosomal RNA molecules are strongly expressed, representing an encouraging sign of the pertinence of the motifs found by the algorithms. In 25 cases out of a possible 30, the combined motif is found with no more than three substitutions immediately upstream from ribosomal proteins, or operons containing a ribosomal protein. This is roughly the same frequency of occurrence as for TTGACAx(15-19)TATAAT (with the same maximum number of substitutions allowed) described as being the sigma(70 )promoter sequence consensus in Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. The frequency of occurrence of the new motif obtained, TTAAGCx(19-23)TATAAT, remains high when all protein genes in H. pylori are considered, as is the case for the TTGACAx(15-19)TATAAT motif in B. subtilis but not in E. coli.

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