It has been thought that genes involved in thiamine (vitamin B1) biosynthesis might be controlled by a thiamine pyrophosphate-dependent sensor/regulatory protein, but no such protein has been shown to exist. In October 17 Nature Wade Winkler and colleagues from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, show that messenger RNAs bind thiamine derivatives directly and this interaction regulates bacterial gene expression without the need for protein cofactors (Nature, doi:10.1038/nature01145, October 17, 2002).

Winkler et al used β-galactosidase translational fusion constructs from which they generated DNA templates and then RNA fragments. The resulting RNAs were analysed using a structure probing process to reveal whether the RNAs undergo structure modulation upon binding of ligands.

Using this system Winkler et al. observed that the mRNAs encoding enzymes involved in thiamine biosynthesis in Escherichia coli can bind thiamine or its pyrophosphate derivative without the need for protein cofactors. The mRNA–effector complex adopts...

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