DNA looping is important for gene repression and activation in Escherichia coli and is necessary for some kinds of gene regulation and recombination in eukaryotes. We are interested in sequence-nonspecific architectural DNA-binding proteins that alter the apparent flexibility of DNA by producing transient bends or kinks in DNA. The bacterial heat unstable (HU) and eukaryotic high-mobility group B (HMGB) proteins fall into this category. We have exploited a sensitive genetic assay of DNA looping in living E. coli cells to explore the extent to which HMGB proteins and derivatives can complement a DNA looping defect in E. coli lacking HU protein. Here, we show that derivatives of the yeast HMGB protein Nhp6A rescue DNA looping in E. coli lacking HU, in some cases facilitating looping to a greater extent than is observed in E. coli expressing normal levels of HU protein. Nhp6A-induced changes in the DNA length-dependence of repression efficiency suggest that Nhp6A alters DNA twist in vivo. In contrast, human HMGB2-box A derivatives did not rescue looping.
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