The satellite bacteriophage P4, in the presence of a helper phage, can enter either the lytic or the lysogenic cycle. In the absence of the helper, P4 can integrate in the bacterial chromosome. In addition, the partially immunity-insensitive mutant P4 vir1 maintained as a plasmid. We have found that in the absence of the helper, P4 wt also can be maintained as a plasmid, and that both P4 wt and P4 vir1 have two options for their intracellular propagation: a repressed-integrated or a derepressed-high copy number plasmid mode of maintenance. In the repressed mode, the P4 wt genome is only found integrated into the bacterial chromosome, while the P4 vir1 is found also as a low copy number plasmid coexisting with the integrated P4 vir1 genome. The clones carrying P4 in the derepressed-high copy number plasmid state are obtained at low frequency (0.3%) upon infection with P4 wt, while the vir1 mutation increases this frequency about 300-fold. Such clones can be distinguished easily because of their typical colony morphology (rosettes), due to the presence of filamentous cells. Filamentation of the bacterial host suggests that the presence of derepressed P4 genomes in high copy number interferes with the normal cell division mechanism. The derepressed clones are rather stable, but may revert spontaneously to the repressed state. Spontaneous transition from the repressed to the derepressed state was not observed; however, it can be induced by P2 or P4 vir1 superinfection of P4 wt and P4 vir1 lysogens or by growing the P4 vir1 lysogens up to the late exponential phase. The ability of P4 to choose either of two stable states and the potential to shift between these two modes of propagation indicate that the syntesis of the immunity repressor is regulated.
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