Conserved ABC Transport System Regulated by the General Stress Response Pathways of Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria

Brucella abortus σE1 is an EcfG family sigma factor that regulates the transcription of dozens of genes in response to diverse stress conditions and is required for maintenance of chronic infection in a mouse model. A putative ATP-binding cassette transporter operon, bab1_0223-bab1_0226, is among the most highly activated gene sets in the σE1 regulon. The proteins encoded by the operon resemble quaternary ammonium-compatible solute importers but are most similar in sequence to the broadly conserved YehZYXW system, which remains largely uncharacterized. Transcription of yehZYXW is activated by the general stress sigma factor σS in Enterobacteriaceae, which suggests a functional role for this transport system in bacterial stress response across the classes Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria We present evidence that B. abortus YehZYXW does not function as an importer of known compatible solutes under physiological conditions and does not contribute to the virulence defect of a σE1-null strain. The sole in vitro phenotype associated with genetic disruption of this putative transport system is reduced growth in the presence of high Li+ ion concentrations. A crystal structure of B. abortus YehZ revealed a class II periplasmic binding protein fold with significant structural homology to Archaeoglobus fulgidus ProX, which binds glycine betaine. However, the structure of the YehZ ligand-binding pocket is incompatible with high-affinity binding to glycine betaine. This is consistent with weak measured binding of YehZ to glycine betaine and related compatible solutes. We conclude that YehZYXW is a conserved, stress-regulated transport system that is phylogenetically and functionally distinct from quaternary ammonium-compatible solute importers.

Brucella abortus σE1 regulates transcription in response to stressors encountered in its mammalian host and is necessary for maintenance of chronic infection in a mouse model. The functions of the majority of genes regulated by σE1 remain undefined. We present a functional/structural analysis of a conserved putative membrane transport system (YehZYXW) whose expression is strongly activated by σE1 Though annotated as a quaternary ammonium osmolyte uptake system, experimental physiological studies and measured ligand-binding properties of the periplasmic binding protein (PBP), YehZ, are inconsistent with this function. A crystal structure of B. abortus YehZ provides molecular insight into differences between bona fide quaternary ammonium osmolyte importers and YehZ-related proteins, which form a distinct phylogenetic and functional group of PBPs.

Herrou J, Willett JW, Czyż DM, Babnigg G, Kim Y, Crosson S. Conserved ABC Transport System Regulated by the General Stress Response Pathways of Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria. J Bacteriol. 2017 Feb 14;199(5). pii: e00746-16. doi: 10.1128/JB.00746-16. Print 2017 Mar 1. PubMed PMID: 27994018; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5309909.

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