Defining the structural requirements for a helix in 23 S ribosomal RNA that confers erythromycin resistance

S. Douthwaite, T. Powers, J. Y. Lee, H. F. Noller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The helix spanning nucleotide 1198 to 1247 (helix 1200-1250) in Escherichia coli 23 S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is functionally important in protein synthesis, and deletions in this region confer erythromycin resistance. In order to define the structural requirements for resistance, we have dissected this region using in vitro mutagenesis. Erythromycin resistance is established after a minimal deletion of three bases, CAU1231 or AUG1232. The maximum deletion observed to confer resistance is 25 bases. The level of erythromycin resistance conferred by intermediate sized deletions is variable and some deletion mutants show a sensitive phenotype. Deletions that extend into the base-pairing between GCC1208 and GGU1240 result in non-functional 23 S RNAs, which consequently do not confer resistance. A number of phylogenetically conserved nucleotides have been shown to be non-essential for 23 S RNA function. However, removal of either these or non-conserved nucleotides from helix 1200-1250 measurably reduces the efficiency of 23 S RNA in forming functional ribosomes. We have used chemical probing and a modified primer extension method to investigate erythromycin binding to wild-type and resistant ribosomes with a 12-base deletion in 23 S RNA. Erythromycin interacts as strongly with mutant 23 S RNA as with wild-type 23 S RNA. Deletions in the 1200-1250 helix do not therefore confer resistance by reducing erythromycin binding, but by suppressing the effects of the drug at the level of its mechanism of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-665
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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