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Antisense RNA based down-regulation of RNaseE in E.coli

Christian Kemmer and Peter Neubauer*

Author Affiliations

Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory, Department of Process and Environmental Engineering and Biocenter Oulu, P. O. Box 4300, University of Oulu, FIN-90014 Oulu, Finland

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Microbial Cell Factories 2006, 5:38  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-5-38

Published: 12 December 2006



Messenger RNA decay is an important mechanism for controlling gene expression in all organisms. The rate of the mRNA degradation directly affects the steady state concentration of mRNAs and therefore influences the protein synthesis. RNaseE has a key importance for the general mRNA decay in E.coli. While RNaseE initiates the degradation of most mRNAs in E.coli, it is likely that the enzyme is also responsible for the degradation of recombinant RNAs. As RNaseE is essential for cell viability and knockout mutants cannot be cultured, we investigated the possibility for a down-regulation of the intracellular level of RNaseE by antisense RNAs. During this study, an antisense RNA based approach could be established which revealed a strong reduction of the intracellular level of RNaseE in E.coli.


Despite the autoregulation of rne mRNA by its gene product, significant antisense downregulation of RNaseE is possible. The expression of antisense RNAs did not effect the cell growth negatively. The amount of antisense RNA was monitored quantitatively by a fluorescence based sandwich hybridisation assay. Induction by anhydrotetracycline was followed by a 25-fold increase of the detectable antisense RNA molecules per cell. The antisense RNA level was maintained above 400 molecules per cell until the stationary phase, which caused the level of expressed antisense RNAs to decrease markedly. Western blot experiments revealed the strongest reduction in the RNaseE protein level 90 min after antisense RNA induction. The cellular level of RNaseE could be decreased to 35% of the wild type level. When the growth entered the stationary phase, the RNaseE level was maintained still at 50 to 60% of the wild type level.


In difference to eukaryotic cells, where the RNAi technology is widely used, this technology is rather unexplored in bacteria, although different natural systems use antisense RNA-based silencing, and a few studies have earlier indicated the potential of this technology also in prokaryotes. Our results show that even complicated self-regulatory systems such as RNaseE may be controlled by antisense RNA technology, indicating that systems based on antisense RNA expression may have a potential for controlling detrimental factors with plasmid-based constructs in arbitrary strains while maintaining their beneficial characteristics. The study also proved that the RNA sandwich hybridisation technique is directly applicable to quantify small RNA molecules in crude cell extracts, which may have a broader application potential as a monitoring tool in RNA inhibition applications.