Journal of Bacteriology
The 23S rRNA gene of Coxiella burnetii, the agent of Q fever in humans, contains an unusually high number of conserved, selfish genetic elements, including two group I introns, termed Cbu.L1917 (L1917) and Cbu.L1951 (L1951). To better understand the role that introns play in Coxiella's biology, we determined the intrinsic stability time periods (in vitro half-lives) of the encoded ribozymes to be similar to 15 days for L1917 and similar to 5 days for L1951, possibly due to differences in their sizes (551 and 1,559 bases, respectively), relative degrees of compactness of the respective RNA structures, and amounts of single-stranded RNA. In vivo half-lives for both introns were also determined to be similar to 11 min by the use of RNase protection assays and an Escherichia coli model. Intron RNAs were quantified in synchronous cultures of C. burnetii and found to closely parallel those of 16S rRNA; i.e., ribozyme levels significantly increased between days 0 and 3 and then remained stable until 8 days postinfection. Both 16S rRNA and ribozyme levels fell during the stationary and death phases (days 8 to 14). The marked stability of the Coxiella intron RNAs is presumably conferred by their association with ribosomes, a stoichiometric relationship that was determined to be one ribozyme, of either type, per 500 ribosomes. Inaccuracies in splicing (exon 2 skipping) were found to increase during the first 5 days in culture, with a rate of approximately one improperly spliced 23S rRNA per 1.3 million copies. The in vitro efficiency of L1917 intron splicing was significantly enhanced in the presence of a recombinant Coxiella RNA DEAD-box helicase (CBU_0670) relative to that of controls, suggesting that this enzyme may serve as an intron RNA splice facilitator in vivo.