The Tryptophan Repressor

In E. coli, the synthesis of the amino acid tryptophan from precursors available to the cell requires 5 enzymes.

The genes encoding these are clustered together in a single operon with its own promoter and operator. When tryptophan is available to the cell, its presence shuts down the operon.


When tryptophan is not present in the cell, the repressor leaves the operator, and transcription of the 5 genes for tryptophan synthesis can begin.

Link to a discussion of another example of operon repressors: the lac operon in E. coli.

This stereoscopic view (courtesy of P. B. Sigler) shows the tryptophan repressor (right side of each panel) bound to its operator DNA (left side). The two identical polypeptides of the repressor are shown on either side of the horizontal red line. The two tryptophan molecules are shown as red rings. (Look also for the stretches of alpha helix in each monomer.)

You may find it easier to fuse the two images into a 3D view by holding a sheet of 8.5 x 11" (22 x 28 cm) paper vertically between your nose and the dividing line between the two images on the screen so that your left eye sees only the left image, your right eye only the right. Persevere: the results are worth it!

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13 June 2011