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In response to anoxia, embryos of the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana are able coordinately to downregulate metabolism to levels low enough to permit survival for several years at room temperature. In addition to dramatic decreases in free ATP levels and heat production, intracellular pH drops from 7.8 to 6.3 overnight. Use of isolated mitochondria to study transcriptional responses to anoxia offers several advantages: (1) the localized nature of transcript initiation, processing and degradation, all of which may be followed in organello; (2) the relatively simple cis- and trans-machinery involved and (3) the ability to provide relevant physiological treatments in vitro. In response to anoxic incubation of embryos in vivo for 4h followed by anoxic mitochondrial isolation and anoxic transcription assay at pH 6.4, a significant decrease in overall UTP incorporation (77%) was seen after 30min relative to normoxic, pH 7.9 controls. A less severe inhibition of transcription under anoxia (52%) was observed compared with controls when pH was raised to 7.9. Similarly, under normoxia, the incubation at low pH (6.4) reduced transcription by 59%. Ribonuclease protection assays showed that the contribution of in vitro initiation during the assay fell from 78% at pH 7.9 to approximately 32% at pH 6.4 under either normoxic or anoxic conditions. DNA footprinting of putative transcriptional promoters revealed proteins at regular intervals upstream of the 12S rRNA in the control region, which previously had been indirectly inferred to contain promoters for H-strand transcription. The area between 12030 and 12065 contains a sequence in the tRNAleu gene believed to bind the transcription termination factor mTERF or TERM, and we provide the first evidence that this sequence is protein-bound in A. franciscana. However, our hypothesis that initiation is reduced at low pH because of a change in DNA binding by mitochondrial transcription factors was not confirmed. We propose that regulation of initiation may be mediated by covalent modification or by protein-protein interactions not detected by footprinting.

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Journal of Experimental Biology

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