A new suite of tnaA mutants suggests that Escherichia coli tryptophanase is regulated by intracellular sequestration and by occlusion of its active site

Li, G.; Young, K.D.

Bmc Microbiology 15: 14


ISSN/ISBN: 1471-2180
PMID: 25650045
DOI: 10.1186/s12866-015-0346-3
Accession: 057077439

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The Escherichia coli enzyme tryptophanase (TnaA) converts tryptophan to indole, which triggers physiological changes and regulates interactions between bacteria and their mammalian hosts. Tryptophanase production is induced by external tryptophan, but the activity of TnaA is also regulated by other, more poorly understood mechanisms. For example, the enzyme accumulates as a spherical inclusion (focus) at midcell or at one pole, but how or why this localization occurs is unknown. TnaA activity is low when the protein forms foci during mid-logarithmic growth but its activity increases as the protein becomes more diffuse, suggesting that foci may represent clusters of inactive (or less active) enzyme. To determine what protein characteristics might mediate these localization effects, we constructed 42 TnaA variants: 6 truncated forms and 36 missense mutants in which different combinations of 83 surface-exposed residues were converted to alanine. A truncated TnaA protein containing only domains D1 and D3 (D1D3) localized to the pole. Mutations affecting the D1D3-to-D1D3 interface did not affect polar localization of D1D3 but did delay assembly of wild type TnaA foci. In contrast, alterations to the D1D3-to-D2 domain interface produced diffuse localization of the D1D3 variant but did not affect the wild type protein. Altering several surface-exposed residues decreased TnaA activity, implying that tetramer assembly may depend on interactions involving these sites. Interestingly, changing any of three amino acids at the base of a loop near the catalytic pocket decreased TnaA activity and caused it to form elongated ovoid foci in vivo, indicating that the alterations affect focus formation and may regulate how frequently tryptophan reaches the active site. The results suggest that TnaA activity is regulated by subcellular localization and by a loop-associated occlusion of its active site. Equally important, these new TnaA variants are immediately available to the research community and should be useful for investigating how tryptophanase is localized and assembled, how substrate accesses its active site, the functional role of acetylation, and other structural and functional questions.