Dissemination of multiresistance has been accelerating among pathogenic bacteria in recent decades. The broad host-range conjugative plasmids of the IncA/C family are effective vehicles of resistance determinants in Gram-negative bacteria. Although more than 150 family members have been sequenced to date, their conjugation system and other functions encoded by the conserved plasmid backbone have been poorly characterized. The key cis-acting locus, the origin of transfer (oriT), has not yet been unambiguously identified. We present evidence that IncA/C plasmids have a single oriT locus immediately upstream of the mobI gene encoding an indispensable transfer factor. The fully active oriT spans ca. 150-bp AT-rich region overlapping the promoters of mobI and contains multiple inverted and direct repeats. Within this region, the core domain of oriT with reduced but detectable transfer activity was confined to a 70-bp segment containing two inverted repeats and one copy of a 14-bp direct repeat. In addition to oriT, a second locus consisting of a 14-bp imperfect inverted repeat was also identified, which mimicked the function of oriT but which was found to be a recombination site. Recombination between two identical copies of these sites is RecA-independent, requires a plasmid-encoded recombinase and resembles the functioning of dimer-resolution systems.
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