Group II intron as cold sensor for self-preservation and bacterial conjugation. uri icon


  • Group II introns are self-splicing ribozymes and mobile genetic elements. Splicing is required for both expression of the interrupted host gene and intron retromobility. For the pRS01 plasmid-encoded Lactococcus lactis group II intron, Ll.LtrB, splicing enables expression of the intron's host relaxase protein. Relaxase, in turn, initiates horizontal transfer of the conjugative pRS01 plasmid and stimulates retrotransposition of the intron. Little is known about how splicing of bacterial group II introns is influenced by environmental conditions. Here, we show that low temperatures can inhibit Ll.LtrB intron splicing. Whereas autocatalysis is abolished in the cold, splicing is partially restored by the intron-encoded protein (IEP). Structure profiling reveals cold-induced disruptions of key tertiary interactions, suggesting that a kinetic trap prevents the intron RNA from assuming its native state. Interestingly, while reduced levels of transcription and splicing lead to a paucity of excised intron in the cold, levels of relaxase mRNA are maintained, partially due to diminished intron-mediated mRNA targeting, allowing intron spread by conjugal transfer. Taken together, this study demonstrates not only the intrinsic cold sensitivity of group II intron splicing and the role of the IEP for cold-stress adaptation, but also maintenance of horizontal plasmid and intron transfer under cold-shock.

publication date

  • June 19, 2020