Expression of Escherichia coli infC, which encodes translation initiation factor IF3 and belongs to a transcriptional unit containing several promoters and terminators, is enhanced after cold shock, causing a transient increase of the IF3/ribosomes ratio. Here we show that after cold shock the two less used promoters (P(T) and P(I1)) remain active and/or are activated, resulting in de novo infC transcription and IF3 synthesis. These two events are partly responsible for the stoichiometric imbalance of the IF3/ribosomes ratio that contributes to establishing the cold-shock translational bias whereby cold-shock mRNAs are preferentially translated by cold-stressed cells while bulk mRNAs are discriminated against. Analysis of the IF3 functions at low temperature sheds light on the molecular mechanism by which IF3 contributes to the cold-shock translational bias. IF3 was found to cause a strong rate increase of fMet-tRNA binding to ribosomes programmed with cold-shock mRNA, an activity essential for the rapid formation of "30S initiation complexes" at low temperature. The increased IF3/ribosome ratio occurring during cold adaptation was also essential to overcome the higher stability of 70S monomers at low temperature so as to provide a sufficient pool of dissociated 30S subunits capable of "70S initiation complex" formation. Finally, at low temperature IF3 was shown to be endowed with the capacity of discriminating against translation of non-cold-shock mRNAs by a cold-shock-specific "fidelity" function operating with a mechanism different from those previously described, insofar as IF3 does not interfere with formation of 30S initiation complex containing these mRNAs, but induces the formation of nonproductive 70S initiation complexes.
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