Prokaryotic Gene Regulation

Section Summary

The regulation of gene expression in prokaryotic cells occurs at the transcriptional level. There are two majors kinds of proteins that control prokaryotic transcription: repressors and activators. Repressors bind to an operator region to block the action of RNA polymerase. Activators bind to the promoter to enhance the binding of RNA polymerase. Inducer molecules can increase transcription either by inactivating repressors or by activating activator proteins. In the trp operon, the trp repressor is itself activated by binding to tryptophan. Therefore, if tryptophan is not needed, the repressor is bound to the operator and transcription remains off. The lac operon is activated by the CAP (catabolite activator protein), which binds to the promoter to stabilize RNA polymerase binding. CAP is itself activated by cAMP, whose concentration rises as the concentration of glucose falls. However, the lac operon also requires the presence of lactose for transcription to occur. Lactose inactivates the lac repressor, and prevents the repressor protein from binding to the lac operator. With the repressor inactivated, transcription may proceed. Therefore glucose must be absent and lactose must be present for effective transcription of the lac operon.