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1.  Comparative and Functional Genomic Analysis of Prokaryotic Nickel and Cobalt Uptake Transporters: Evidence for a Novel Group of ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters†  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(1):317-327.
The transition metals nickel and cobalt, essential components of many enzymes, are taken up by specific transport systems of several different types. We integrated in silico and in vivo methods for the analysis of various protein families containing both nickel and cobalt transport systems in prokaryotes. For functional annotation of genes, we used two comparative genomic approaches: identification of regulatory signals and analysis of the genomic positions of genes encoding candidate nickel/cobalt transporters. The nickel-responsive repressor NikR regulates many nickel uptake systems, though the NikR-binding signal is divergent in various taxonomic groups of bacteria and archaea. B12 riboswitches regulate most of the candidate cobalt transporters in bacteria. The nickel/cobalt transporter genes are often colocalized with genes for nickel-dependent or coenzyme B12 biosynthesis enzymes. Nickel/cobalt transporters of different families, including the previously known NiCoT, UreH, and HupE/UreJ families of secondary systems and the NikABCDE ABC-type transporters, showed a mosaic distribution in prokaryotic genomes. In silico analyses identified CbiMNQO and NikMNQO as the most widespread groups of microbial transporters for cobalt and nickel ions. These unusual uptake systems contain an ABC protein (CbiO or NikO) but lack an extracytoplasmic solute-binding protein. Experimental analysis confirmed metal transport activity for three members of this family and demonstrated significant activity for a basic module (CbiMN) of the Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium transporter.
PMCID: PMC1317602  PMID: 16352848
2.  Hierarchical regulation of the NikR-mediated nickel response in Helicobacter pylori 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(17):7564-7575.
Nickel is an essential metal for Helicobacter pylori, as it is the co-factor of two enzymes crucial for colonization, urease and hydrogenase. Nickel is taken up by specific transporters and its intracellular homeostasis depends on nickel-binding proteins to avoid toxicity. Nickel trafficking is controlled by the Ni(II)-dependent transcriptional regulator NikR. In contrast to other NikR proteins, NikR from H. pylori is a pleiotropic regulator that depending on the target gene acts as an activator or a repressor. We systematically quantified the in vivo Ni2+-NikR response of 11 direct NikR targets that encode functions related to nickel metabolism, four activated and seven repressed genes. Among these, four targets were characterized for the first time (hpn, hpn-like, hydA and hspA) and NikR binding to their promoter regions was demonstrated by electrophoretic mobility shift assays. We found that NikR-dependent repression was generally set up at higher nickel concentrations than activation. Kinetics of the regulation revealed a gradual and temporal NikR-mediated response to nickel where activation of nickel-protection mechanisms takes place before repression of nickel uptake. Our in vivo study demonstrates, for the first time, a chronological hierarchy in the NikR-dependent transcriptional response to nickel that is coherent with the control of nickel homeostasis in H. pylori.
PMCID: PMC3177205  PMID: 21666253
3.  Sinorhizobium meliloti requires a cobalamin-dependent ribonucleotide reductase for symbiosis with its plant host 
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a critical cofactor for animals and protists, yet its biosynthesis is limited to prokaryotes. We previously showed that the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing alphaproteobacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti requires cobalamin to establish a symbiotic relationship with its plant host, Medicago sativa (alfalfa). Here, the specific requirement for cobalamin in the S. meliloti-alfalfa symbiosis was investigated. Of the three known cobalamin-dependent enzymes in S. meliloti, the methylmalonyl CoA mutase (BhbA) does not affect symbiosis whereas disruption of the metH gene encoding the cobalamin-dependent methionine synthase causes a significant defect in symbiosis. Expression of the cobalamin-independent methionine synthase MetE alleviates this symbiotic defect, indicating that the requirement for methionine synthesis does not reflect a need for the cobalamin-dependent enzyme. To investigate the function of the cobalamin-dependent ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) encoded by nrdJ, S. meliloti was engineered to express an Escherichia coli cobalamin-independent (Class Ia) RNR instead of nrdJ. This strain is severely defective in symbiosis. Electron micrographs show that these cells can penetrate alfalfa nodules but are unable to differentiate into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids and instead are lysed in the plant cytoplasm. Flow cytometry analysis indicates that these bacteria are largely unable to undergo endoreduplication. These phenotypes may be due to the inactivation of the Class Ia RNR by reactive oxygen species and/or inadequate oxygen availability in the nodule. These results show that the critical role of the cobalamin-dependent RNR for survival of S. meliloti in its plant host can account for the considerable resources that S. meliloti dedicates to cobalamin biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC2979309  PMID: 20698752
Sinorhizobium meliloti; symbiosis; vitamin B12; cobalamin; ribonucleotide reductase
4.  Planar substrate-binding site dictates the specificity of ECF-type nickel/cobalt transporters 
Cell Research  2013;24(3):267-277.
The energy-coupling factor (ECF) transporters are multi-subunit protein complexes that mediate uptake of transition-metal ions and vitamins in about 50% of the prokaryotes, including bacteria and archaea. Biological and structural studies have been focused on ECF transporters for vitamins, but the molecular mechanism by which ECF systems transport metal ions from the environment remains unknown. Here we report the first crystal structure of a NikM, TtNikM2, the substrate-binding component (S component) of an ECF-type nickel transporter from Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis. In contrast to the structures of the vitamin-specific S proteins with six transmembrane segments (TSs), TtNikM2 possesses an additional TS at its N-terminal region, resulting in an extracellular N-terminus. The highly conserved N-terminal loop inserts into the center of TtNikM2 and occludes a region corresponding to the substrate-binding sites of the vitamin-specific S components. Nickel binds to NikM via its coordination to four nitrogen atoms, which are derived from Met1, His2 and His67 residues. These nitrogen atoms form an approximately square-planar geometry, similar to that of the metal ion-binding sites in the amino-terminal Cu2+- and Ni2+-binding (ATCUN) motif. Replacements of residues in NikM contributing to nickel coordination compromised the Ni-transport activity. Furthermore, systematic quantum chemical investigation indicated that this geometry enables NikM to also selectively recognize Co2+. Indeed, the structure of TtNikM2 containing a bound Co2+ ion has almost no conformational change compared to the structure that contains a nickel ion. Together, our data reveal an evolutionarily conserved mechanism underlying the metal selectivity of EcfS proteins, and provide insights into the ion-translocation process mediated by ECF transporters.
PMCID: PMC3945884  PMID: 24366337
energy-coupling factor transporter; nickel and cobalt transporters; crystal structure
5.  Antagonistic effect of nickel on the fermentative growth of Escherichia coli K-12 and comparison of nickel and cobalt toxicity on the aerobic and anaerobic growth. 
Environmental Health Perspectives  1994;102(Suppl 3):297-300.
The facultative anaerobic enterobacterium Escherichia coli requires the activity of nickel-containing hydrogenase for its anaerobic growth. Deficiency of the specific nickel transport system led to a hydrogenase-minus phenotype and slowed down the fermentative growth in the nik mutant. Addition of 300 microM nickel to the growth medium could restore the hydrogenase activity. This restoration resulted in the recovery of anaerobic growth. A further increase of nickel concentration inhibited growth. Thus nickel shows an antagonistic effect on the anaerobic growth of E. coli. To study the mechanism of nickel toxicity, two classes of nickel-resistant mutants were isolated. The nkr mutant was obtained by selecting colonies grown on nickel-containing minimal plate. It acquired simultaneously the resistance to cobalt. A nonspecific magnesium transport mutant corA was isolated on cobalt-containing plate. The corA mutant was also resistant to nickel. When analyzing the influence of nickel and cobalt on the bacterial growth, we obtained two interesting observations. First, anaerobic growth was less sensitive than aerobic growth to cobalt toxicity. In contrast, nickel toxicity did not vary from the growth conditions. Second, cobalt seems to abolish the growth, while nickel appears to slow down the growth rate under the condition used.
PMCID: PMC1567389  PMID: 7843119
6.  Helicobacter hepaticus NikR controls urease and hydrogenase activities via the NikABDE and HH0418 putative nickel import proteins 
Microbiology  2013;159(Pt 1):136-146.
Helicobacter hepaticus open reading frame HH0352 was identified as a nickel-responsive regulator NikR. The gene was disrupted by insertion of an erythromycin resistance cassette. The H. hepaticus nikR mutant had five- to sixfold higher urease activity and at least twofold greater hydrogenase activity than the wild-type strain. However, the urease apo-protein levels were similar in both the wild-type and the mutant, suggesting the increase in urease activity in the mutant was due to enhanced Ni-maturation of the urease. Compared with the wild-type strain, the nikR strain had increased cytoplasmic nickel levels. Transcription of nikABDE (putative inner membrane Ni transport system) and hh0418 (putative outer membrane Ni transporter) was nickel- and NikR-repressed. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs) revealed that purified HhNikR could bind to the nikABDE promoter (PnikA), but not to the urease or the hydrogenase promoter; NikR-PnikA binding was enhanced in the presence of nickel. Also, qRT-PCR and EMSAs indicated that neither nikR nor the exbB-exbD-tonB were under the control of the NikR regulator, in contrast with their Helicobacter pylori homologues. Taken together, our results suggest that HhNikR modulates urease and hydrogenase activities by repressing the nickel transport/nickel internalization systems in H. hepaticus, without direct regulation of the Ni-enzyme genes (the latter is the case for H. pylori). Finally, the nikR strain had a two- to threefold lower growth yield than the parent, suggesting that the regulatory protein might play additional roles in the mouse liver pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3542730  PMID: 23139401
7.  Complex Transcriptional Control Links NikABCDE-Dependent Nickel Transport with Hydrogenase Expression in Escherichia coli 
Journal of Bacteriology  2005;187(18):6317-6323.
Escherichia coli requires nickel under anaerobic growth conditions for the synthesis of catalytically active NiFe hydrogenases. Transcription of the NikABCDE nickel transporter, which is required for NiFe hydrogenase synthesis, was previously shown to be upregulated by FNR (fumarate-nit rate regulator) in the absence of oxygen and repressed by the NikR repressor in the presence of high extracellular nickel levels. We present here a detailed analysis of nikABCDE transcriptional regulation and show that it closely correlates with hydrogenase expression levels. We identify a nitrate-dependent mechanism for nikABCDE repression that is linked to the NarLX two-component system. NikR is functional under all nickel conditions tested, but its activity is modulated by the total nickel concentration present as well as by one or more components of the hydrogenase assembly pathway. Unexpectedly, NikR function is independent of NikABCDE function, suggesting that NikABCDE is a hydrogenase-specific nickel transporter, consistent with its original identification as a hydrogenase (hyd) mutant. Further, the results suggest that the hydrogenase assembly pathway is sequestered within the cell. A second nickel import pathway in E. coli is implicated in NikR function.
PMCID: PMC1236639  PMID: 16159764
8.  Novel Genes Affecting Urease Activity in Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(4):1242-1247.
Characterization of a series of urease-negative transposon mutations of Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae revealed that many of the mutants had insertions 2 to 4 kbp upstream of the urease gene cluster. A 5-kbp upstream region of DNA was sequenced and found to contain six open reading frames (ORFs) transcribed in the same orientation as the urease genes. As well, a partial ORF, apuR, 202 bp upstream of these six ORFs, is transcribed in the opposite orientation. The predicted product of this partial ORF shows homology with many members of the LysR family of transcriptional regulators. Five of the ORFs (cbiKLMQO) appear to form an operon encoding a putative nickel and cobalt periplasmic permease system. The cbiM and cbiQ genes encode proteins that have sequence similarity with known cobalt transport membrane proteins, and the cbiO gene encodes a cobalt transport ATP-binding protein homologue. The product of the cbiK gene is predicted to be the periplasmic-binding-protein component of the system, though it does not show any sequence similarity with CbiN, the cobalt-binding periplasmic protein. Escherichia coli clones containing this putative transport operon together with the urease genes of A. pleuropneumoniae were urease positive when grown in unsupplemented Luria-Bertani broth, whereas a clone containing only the minimal urease gene cluster required the addition of high concentrations of NiCl2 for full urease activity. This result supports the hypothesis that nickel is a substrate for this permease system. The sixth ORF, utp, appears to encode an integral membrane protein which has significant sequence identity with mammalian urea transport proteins, though its function in A. pleuropneumoniae remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC94997  PMID: 11157936
9.  Nickel trafficking system responsible for urease maturation in Helicobacter pylori 
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common human pathogen responsible for various gastric diseases. This bacterium relies on the production of urease and hydrogenase to inhabit the acidic environment of the stomach. Nickel is an essential cofactor for urease and hydrogenase. H. pylori has to uptake sufficient nickel ions for the maturation of urease, and on the other way, to prevent the toxic effects of excessive nickel ions. Therefore, H. pylori has to strike a delicate balance between the import of nickel ions, its efficient intracellular storage, and delivery to nickel-dependent metalloenzymes when required. The assembly and maturation of the urease enzyme is a complex and timely ordered process, requiring various regulatory, uptake, chaperone and accessory proteins. In this review, we focus on several nickel trafficking proteins involved in urease maturation: NikR, NixA, HypAB, UreEFGH, HspA, Hpn and Hpnl. The work will deepen our understanding of how this pathogenic bacterium adapts to severe habitant environments in the host.
PMCID: PMC3857443  PMID: 24363511
Urease; Histidine-rich protein; NikR; NixA; Helicobacter pylori
10.  Helicobacter pylori ABC transporter: effect of allelic exchange mutagenesis on urease activity. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(18):5892-5902.
Helicobacter pylori urease requires nickel ions in the enzyme active site for catalytic activity. Nickel ions must, therefore, be actively acquired by the bacterium. NixA (high-affinity nickel transport protein)-deficient mutants of H. pylori retain significant urease activity, suggesting the presence of alternate nickel transporters. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence of the H. pylori genome revealed a homolog of NikD, a component of an ATP-dependent nickel transport system in Escherichia coli. Based on this sequence, a 378-bp DNA fragment was PCR amplified from H. pylori genomic DNA and used as a probe to identify an H. pylori lambda ZAPII genomic library clone that carried these sequences. Four open reading frames of 621, 273, 984, and 642 bp (abcABCD) were revealed by sequencing and predicted polypeptides of 22.7, 9.9, 36.6, and 22.8 kDa, respectively. The 36.6-kDa polypeptide (AbcC) has significant homology (56% amino acid sequence identity) to an E. coli ATP-binding protein component of an ABC transport system, while none of the other putative proteins are significantly homologous to polypeptides in the available databases. To determine the possible contribution of these genes to urease activity, abcC and abcD were each insertionally inactivated with a kanamycin resistance (aphA) cassette and allelic exchange mutants of each gene were constructed in H. pylori UMAB41. Mutation of abcD resulted in an 88% decrease in urease activity to 27 +/- 31 mumol of NH3/min/mg of protein (P < 0.0001), and a double mutant of nixA and abcC resulted in the near abolishment of urease activity (1.1 +/- 1.4 mumol of NH3/min/mg of protein in the double mutant versus 228 +/- 92 mumol of NH3/min/mg of protein in the parent [P < 0.0001]). Synthesis of urease apoenzyme, however, was unaffected by mutations in any of the abc genes. We conclude that the abc gene cluster, in addition to nixA, is involved in production of a catalytically active urease.
PMCID: PMC179482  PMID: 9294450
11.  The Nickel-Responsive Regulator NikR Controls Activation and Repression of Gene Transcription in Helicobacter pylori  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(11):7252-7258.
The NikR protein is a nickel-dependent regulatory protein which is a member of the ribbon-helix-helix family of transcriptional regulators. The gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori expresses a NikR ortholog, which was previously shown to mediate regulation of metal metabolism and urease expression, but the mechanism governing the diverse regulatory effects had not been described until now. In this study it is demonstrated that NikR can regulate H. pylori nickel metabolism by directly controlling transcriptional repression of NixA-mediated nickel uptake and transcriptional induction of urease expression. Mutation of the nickel uptake gene nixA in an H. pylori 26695 nikR mutant restored the ability to grow in Brucella media supplemented with 200 μM NiCl2 but did not restore nickel-dependent induction of urease expression. Nickel-dependent binding of NikR to the promoter of the nixA gene resulted in nickel-repressed transcription, whereas nickel-dependent binding of NikR to the promoter of the ureA gene resulted in nickel-induced transcription. Subsequent analysis of NikR binding to the nixA and ureA promoters showed that the regulatory effect was dependent on the location of the NikR-recognized binding sequence. NikR recognized the region from −13 to +21 of the nixA promoter, encompassing the +1 and −10 region, and this binding resulted in repression of nixA transcription. In contrast, NikR bound to the region from −56 to −91 upstream of the ureA promoter, resulting in induction of urease transcription. In conclusion, the NikR protein is able to function both as a repressor and as an activator of gene transcription, depending on the position of the binding site.
PMCID: PMC1273850  PMID: 16239520
12.  Roles of His-Rich Hpn and Hpn-Like Proteins in Helicobacter pylori Nickel Physiology▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(11):4120-4126.
Individual gene-targeted hpn and hpn-like mutants and a mutant with mutations in both hpn genes were more sensitive to nickel, cobalt, and cadmium toxicity than was the parent strain, with the hpn-like strain showing the most metal sensitivity of the two individual His-rich protein mutants. The mutant strains contained up to eightfold more urease activity than the parent under nickel-deficient conditions, and the parent strain was able to achieve mutant strain activity levels by nickel supplementation. The mutants contained 3- to 4-fold more and the double mutant about 10-fold more Ni associated with their total urease pools, even though all of the strains expressed similar levels of total urease protein. Hydrogenase activities in the mutants were like those in the parent strain; thus, hydrogenase is fully activated under nickel-deficient conditions. The histidine-rich proteins appear to compete with the Ni-dependent urease maturation machinery under low-nickel conditions. Upon lowering the pH of the growth medium from 7.3 to 5, the wild-type urease activity increased threefold, but the activity in the three mutant strains was relatively unaffected. This pH effect was attributed to a nickel storage role for the His-rich proteins. Under low-nickel conditions, the addition of a nickel chelator did not significantly affect the urease activity of the wild type but decreased the activity of all of the mutants, supporting a role for the His-rich proteins as Ni reservoirs. These nickel reservoirs significantly impact the active urease activities achieved. The His-rich proteins play dual roles, as Ni storage and as metal detoxification proteins, depending on the exogenous nickel levels.
PMCID: PMC1913394  PMID: 17384182
13.  Interplay of metal ions and urease 
Urease, the first enzyme to be crystallized, contains a dinuclear nickel metallocenter that catalyzes the decomposition of urea to produce ammonia, a reaction of great agricultural and medical importance. Several mechanisms of urease catalysis have been proposed on the basis of enzyme crystal structures, model complexes, and computational efforts, but the precise steps in catalysis and the requirement of nickel versus other metals remain unclear. Purified bacterial urease is partially activated via incubation with carbon dioxide plus nickel ions; however, in vitro activation also has been achieved with manganese and cobalt. In vivo activation of most ureases requires accessory proteins that function as nickel metallochaperones and GTP-dependent molecular chaperones or play other roles in the maturation process. In addition, some microorganisms control their levels of urease by metal ion-dependent regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC2745169  PMID: 20046957
Free radical biology & medicine  2009;46(12):1626-1632.
Cobalamins (Cbl) are important co-factors for methionine synthase and methylmalonyl-coA mutase. Certain corrins also bind nitric oxide (NO), quenching its bioactivity. To determine if corrins would inhibit NO synthase (NOS), we measured their effects on 14-C-L-arginine-to-14-C-L-citrulline conversion by NOS1, NOS2, and NOS3. Hydroxocobalamin (OH-Cbl), cobinamide (Cbi), and dicyanocobinamide (CN2-Cbi) potently inhibited all isoforms, whfile cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin had much less effect. OH-Cbl and CN2-Cbi prevented binding of the oxygen analog carbon monoxide (CO) to the reduced NOS1 and NOS2 heme active site. CN2-Cbi did not react directly with NO or CO. Spectral perturbation analysis showed that CN2-Cbi interacted directly with the purified NOS1 oxygenase domain. NOS inhibition by corrins was rapid and not reversed by dialysis with L-arginine, tetrahydrobiopterin. Molecular modeling indicated that corrins could access the unusually large heme and substrate-binding pocket of NOS. Best fits were obtained in the “base-off” conformation of the lower axial dimethylbenzimidazole ligand. CN2-Cbi inhibited interferon-γ-activated Raw264.7 mouse macrophage NO production. We show for the first time that certain corrins directly inhibit NOS, suggesting that these agents (or their derivatives) may have pharmacological utility. Endogenous cobalamins and cobinamides might play important roles regulating NOS activity in normal and pathological conditions.
PMCID: PMC2745708  PMID: 19328848
cobalamin; cobinamide; vitamin B12; nitric oxide; nitric oxide synthase; arginine; macrophage
15.  Molybdoproteomes and evolution of molybdenum utilization 
Journal of molecular biology  2008;379(4):881-899.
The trace element molybdenum (Mo) is utilized in many life forms, and it is a key component of several enzymes involved in nitrogen, sulfur, and carbon metabolism. With the exception of nitrogenase, Mo is bound in proteins to a pterin, thus forming the molybdenum cofactor (Moco) at the catalytic sites of molybdoenzymes. Although a number of molybdoenzymes are well characterized structurally and functionally, evolutionary analyses of Mo utilization are limited. Here, we carried out comparative genomic and phylogenetic analyses to examine the occurrence and evolution of Mo utilization in bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes at the level of (i) Mo transport and Moco utilization trait, and (ii) Mo-dependent enzymes. Our results revealed that most prokaryotes and all higher eukaryotes utilize Mo whereas many unicellular eukaryotes including parasites and most yeasts lost the ability to use this metal. In addition, eukaryotes have fewer molybdoenzyme families than prokaryotes. Dimethylsulfoxide reductase (DMSOR) and sulfite oxidase (SO) families were the most widespread molybdoenzymes in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, respectively. A distant group of the ModABC transport system, was predicted in the hyperthermophilic archaeon Pyrobaculum. ModE-type regulation of Mo uptake occurred in less than 30% of Moco-utilizing organisms. A link between Mo and selenocysteine utilization in prokaryotes was also identified wherein the selenocysteine trait was largely a subset of the Mo trait, presumably due to formate dehydrogenase, a Mo- and selenium-containing protein. Finally, analysis of environmental conditions and organisms that do or do not depend on Mo revealed that host-associated organisms and organisms with low G+C content tend to reduce their Mo utilization. Overall, our data provide new insights into Mo utilization and show its wide occurrence, yet limited use of this metal in individual organisms in all three domains of life.
PMCID: PMC2670968  PMID: 18485362
molybdenum; molybdopterin; molybdoenzyme; comparative genomics; evolution
16.  Common themes and unique proteins for the uptake and trafficking of nickel, a metal essential for the virulence of Helicobacter pylori 
Nickel is a virulence determinant for the human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori. Indeed, H. pylori possesses two nickel-enzymes that are essential for in vivo colonization, [NiFe] hydrogenase and urease, an abundant virulence factor that contains 24 nickel ions per active complex. Because of these two enzymes, survival of H. pylori relies on an important supply of nickel, implying a tight control of its distribution and storage. In this review, we will present the pathways of activation of the nickel enzymes as well as original mechanisms found in H. pylori for the uptake, trafficking and distribution of nickel between the two enzymes. These include (i) an outer-membrane nickel uptake system, the FrpB4 TonB-dependent transporter, (ii) overlapping protein complexes and interaction networks involved in nickel trafficking and distribution between urease and hydrogenase and, (iii) Helicobacter specific nickel-binding proteins that are involved in nickel storage and can play the role of metallo-chaperones. Finally, we will discuss the implication of the nickel trafficking partners in virulence and propose them as novel therapeutic targets for treatments against H. pylori infection.
PMCID: PMC3856676  PMID: 24367767
nickel; urease maturation; hydrogenase; Helicobacter pylori; metal trafficking
17.  Genetic determinants of a nickel-specific transport system are part of the plasmid-encoded hydrogenase gene cluster in Alcaligenes eutrophus. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1989;171(3):1340-1345.
Nickel-deficient (Nic-) mutants of Alcaligenes eutrophus requiring high levels of nickel ions for autotrophic growth with hydrogen were characterized. The Nic- mutants carried defined deletions in the hydrogenase gene cluster of the indigenous pHG megaplasmid. Nickel deficiency correlated with a low level of the nickel-containing hydrogenase activity, a slow rate of nickel transport, and reduced activity of urease. The Nic+ phenotype was restored by a cloned DNA sequence (hoxN) of a megaplasmid pHG1 DNA library of A. eutrophus H16. hoxN is part of the hydrogenase gene cluster. The nickel requirement of Nic- mutants was enhanced by increasing the concentration of magnesium. This suggests that the Nic- mutants are impaired in the nickel-specific transport system and thus depend on the second transport activity which normally mediates the uptake of magnesium.
PMCID: PMC209751  PMID: 2646280
18.  Quantum catalysis in B12-dependent methylmalonyl-CoA mutase: experimental and computational insights 
B12-dependent methylmalonyl-CoA mutase catalyses the interchange of a hydrogen atom and the carbonyl-CoA group on adjacent carbons of methylmalonyl-CoA to give the rearranged product, succinyl-CoA. The first step in this reaction involves the transient generation of cofactor radicals by homolytic rupture of the cobalt–carbon bond to generate the deoxyadenosyl radical and cob(II)alamin. This step exhibits a curious sensitivity to isotopic substitution in the substrate, methylmalonyl-CoA, which has been interpreted as evidence for kinetic coupling. The magnitude of the isotopic discrimination is large and a deuterium isotope effect ranging from 35.6 at 20 °C to 49.9 at 5 °C has been recorded. Arrhenius analysis of the temperature dependence of this isotope effect provides evidence for quantum tunnelling in this hydrogen transfer step. The mechanistic complexity of the observed rate constant for cobalt–carbon bond homolysis together with the spectroscopically silent nature of many of the component steps limits the insights that can be derived by experimental approaches alone. Computational studies using a newly developed geometry optimization scheme that allows determination of the transition state in the full quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical coordinate space have yielded novel insights into the strategy deployed for labilizing the cobalt–carbon bond and poising the resulting deoxyadenosyl radical for subsequent hydrogen atom abstraction.
PMCID: PMC1647305  PMID: 16873121
cobalamin; B12; tunnelling; methylmalonyl-CoA mutase
19.  Genes Encoding Specific Nickel Transport Systems Flank the Chromosomal Urease Locus of Pathogenic Yersiniae 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(20):5706-5713.
The transition metal nickel is an essential cofactor for a number of bacterial enzymes, one of which is urease. Prior to its incorporation into metalloenzyme active sites, nickel must be imported into the cell. Here, we report identification of two loci corresponding to nickel-specific transport systems in the gram-negative, ureolytic bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. The loci are located on each side of the chromosomal urease gene cluster ureABCEFGD and have the same orientation as the latter. The yntABCDE locus upstream of the ure genes encodes five predicted products with sequence homology to ATP-binding cassette nickel permeases present in several gram-negative bacteria. The ureH gene, located downstream of ure, encodes a single-component carrier which displays homology to polypeptides of the nickel-cobalt transporter family. Transporters with homology to these two classes are also present (again in proximity to the urease locus) in the other two pathogenic yersiniae, Y. pestis and Y. enterocolitica. An Escherichia coli nikA insertion mutant recovered nickel uptake ability following heterologous complementation with either the ynt or the ureH plasmid-borne gene of Y. pseudotuberculosis, demonstrating that each carrier is necessary and sufficient for nickel transport. Deletion of ynt in Y. pseudotuberculosis almost completely abolished bacterial urease activity, whereas deletion of ureH had no effect. Nevertheless, rates of nickel transport were significantly altered in both ynt and ureH mutants. Furthermore, the ynt ureH double mutant was totally devoid of nickel uptake ability, thus indicating that Ynt and UreH constitute the only routes for nickel entry. Both Ynt and UreH show selectivity for Ni2+ ions. This is the first reported identification of genes coding for both kinds of nickel-specific permeases situated adjacent to the urease gene cluster in the genome of a microorganism.
PMCID: PMC139606  PMID: 12270829
20.  Evolutionary aspects of urea utilization by fungi 
FEMS yeast research  2010;10(2):209.
The higher fungi exhibit a dichotomy with regard to urea utilization. The hemiascomycetes use urea amidolyase (DUR1,2) whereas all other higher fungi use the nickel-containing urease. Urea amidolyase is an energy dependent biotin-containing enzyme. It likely arose prior to the Euascomycete/Hemiascomycete divergence ca. 350 million years ago by insertion of an unknown gene into one copy of a duplicated methylcrotonyl CoA carboxylase (MccA). The dichotomy between urease and urea amidolyase coincides precisely with that for the Ni/Co transporter (Nic1p) which is present in the higher fungi that use urease and absent in those that do not. We suggest that the selective advantage for urea amidolyase is that it allowed the hemiascomycetes to jettison all Ni2+ and Co2+ dependent metabolism and thus to have two fewer transition metals whose concentrations need to be regulated. Also, the absence of MccA in the hemiascomycetes coincides with and may explain their production of fusel alcohols.
PMCID: PMC2822880  PMID: 20100286
21.  Functional Characterization of a Vitamin B12-Dependent Methylmalonyl Pathway in Mycobacterium tuberculosis: Implications for Propionate Metabolism during Growth on Fatty Acids▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(11):3886-3895.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is predicted to subsist on alternative carbon sources during persistence within the human host. Catabolism of odd- and branched-chain fatty acids, branched-chain amino acids, and cholesterol generates propionyl-coenzyme A (CoA) as a terminal, three-carbon (C3) product. Propionate constitutes a key precursor in lipid biosynthesis but is toxic if accumulated, potentially implicating its metabolism in M. tuberculosis pathogenesis. In addition to the well-characterized methylcitrate cycle, the M. tuberculosis genome contains a complete methylmalonyl pathway, including a mutAB-encoded methylmalonyl-CoA mutase (MCM) that requires a vitamin B12-derived cofactor for activity. Here, we demonstrate the ability of M. tuberculosis to utilize propionate as the sole carbon source in the absence of a functional methylcitrate cycle, provided that vitamin B12 is supplied exogenously. We show that this ability is dependent on mutAB and, furthermore, that an active methylmalonyl pathway allows the bypass of the glyoxylate cycle during growth on propionate in vitro. Importantly, although the glyoxylate and methylcitrate cycles supported robust growth of M. tuberculosis on the C17 fatty acid heptadecanoate, growth on valerate (C5) was significantly enhanced through vitamin B12 supplementation. Moreover, both wild-type and methylcitrate cycle mutant strains grew on B12-supplemented valerate in the presence of 3-nitropropionate, an inhibitor of the glyoxylate cycle enzyme isocitrate lyase, indicating an anaplerotic role for the methylmalonyl pathway. The demonstrated functionality of MCM reinforces the potential relevance of vitamin B12 to mycobacterial pathogenesis and suggests that vitamin B12 availability in vivo might resolve the paradoxical dispensability of the methylcitrate cycle for the growth and persistence of M. tuberculosis in mice.
PMCID: PMC2395058  PMID: 18375549
22.  NikR Mediates Nickel-Responsive Transcriptional Repression of the Helicobacter pylori Outer Membrane Proteins FecA3 (HP1400) and FrpB4 (HP1512)▿  
Infection and Immunity  2006;74(12):6821-6828.
The transition metal nickel plays an important role in gastric colonization and persistence of the important human pathogen Helicobacter pylori, as it is the cofactor of the abundantly produced acid resistance factor urease. Nickel uptake through the inner membrane is mediated by the NixA protein, and the expression of NixA is controlled by the NikR regulatory protein. Here we report that NikR also controls the nickel-responsive expression of the FecA3 (HP1400) and FrpB4 (HP1512) outer membrane proteins (OMPs), as well as the nickel-responsive expression of an ExbB-ExbD-TonB system, which may function in energization of outer membrane transport. Transcription and expression of the frpB4 and fecA3 genes were repressed by nickel in wild-type H. pylori 26695, but they were independent of nickel and derepressed in an isogenic nikR mutant. Both the frpB4 and fecA3 genes were transcribed from a promoter directly upstream of their start codon. Regulation by NikR was mediated via nickel-dependent binding to specific operators overlapping either the +1 or −10 sequence in the frpB4 and fecA3 promoters, respectively, and these operators contained sequences resembling the proposed H. pylori NikR recognition sequence (TATWATT-N11-AATWATA). Transcription of the HP1339-1340-1341 operon encoding the ExbB2-ExbD2-TonB2 complex was also regulated by nickel and NikR, but not by Fur and iron. In conclusion, H. pylori NikR controls nickel-responsive expression of the HP1400 (FecA3) and HP1512 (FrpB4) OMPs. We hypothesize that these two NikR-regulated OMPs may participate in the uptake of complexed nickel ions and that this process is energized by the NikR-regulated ExbB2-ExbD2-TonB2 system, another example of the specific adaptation of H. pylori to the gastric lifestyle.
PMCID: PMC1698083  PMID: 17015456
23.  Physical Basis of Metal-Binding Specificity in Escherichia coli NikR 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2009;131(29):10220-10228.
In Escherichia coli and other bacteria, nickel uptake is regulated by the transcription factor NikR. Nickel binding at high-affinity sites in E. coli NikR (EcNikR) facilitates EcNikR binding to the nik operon, where it then suppresses transcription of genes encoding the nickel uptake transporter, NikABCDE. A structure of the EcNikR-DNA complex suggests that a second metal-binding site is also present when NikR binds to the nik operon. Moreover, this co-crystal structure raises the question of what metal occupies the second site under physiological conditions: K+, which is present in the crystal structure, or Ni2+, which has been proposed to bind to low- as well as high-affinity sites on EcNikR. To determine which ion is preferred at the second metal-binding site and the physical basis for any preference of one ion over another in both the second metal-binding site and the high-affinity sites, we conducted a series of detailed molecular simulations on the EcNikR structure. Simulations that place Ni2+ at high-affinity sites lead to stable trajectories with realistic ion–ligand distances and geometries, while simulations that place K+ at these sites lead to conformational changes in the protein that are likely unfavorable for ion binding. By contrast, simulations on the second metal site in the EcNikR-DNA complex lead to stable trajectories with realistic geometries regardless of whether K+ or Ni2+ occupies this site. Electrostatic binding free energy calculations, however, suggest that EcNikR binding to DNA is more favorable when the second metal-binding site contains K+. An analysis of the energetic contributions to the electrostatic binding free energy suggests that, while the interaction between EcNikR and DNA is more favorable when the second site contains Ni2+, the large desolvation penalty associated with moving Ni2+ from solution to the relatively buried second site offsets this favorable interaction term. Additional free energy simulations that account for both electrostatic and non-electrostatic effects argue that EcNikR binding to DNA is most favorable when the second site contains a monovalent ion the size of K+. Taken together, these data suggest that the EcNikR structure is most stable when Ni2+ occupies high-affinity sites and that EcNikR binding to DNA is more favorable when the second site contains K+.
PMCID: PMC3579654  PMID: 19621966
24.  Rhizobium leguminosarum hupE Encodes a Nickel Transporter Required for Hydrogenase Activity▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(4):925-935.
Synthesis of the hydrogen uptake (Hup) system in Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae requires the function of an 18-gene cluster (hupSLCDEFGHIJK-hypABFCDEX). Among them, the hupE gene encodes a protein showing six transmembrane domains for which a potential role as a nickel permease has been proposed. In this paper, we further characterize the nickel transport capacity of HupE and that of the translated product of hupE2, a hydrogenase-unlinked gene identified in the R. leguminosarum genome. HupE2 is a potential membrane protein that shows 48% amino acid sequence identity with HupE. Expression of both genes in the Escherichia coli nikABCDE mutant strain HYD723 restored hydrogenase activity and nickel transport. However, nickel transport assays revealed that HupE and HupE2 displayed different levels of nickel uptake. Site-directed mutagenesis of histidine residues in HupE revealed two motifs (HX5DH and FHGX[AV]HGXE) that are required for HupE functionality. An R. leguminosarum double mutant, SPF22A (hupE hupE2), exhibited reduced levels of hydrogenase activity in free-living cells, and this phenotype was complemented by nickel supplementation. Low levels of symbiotic hydrogenase activity were also observed in SPF22A bacteroid cells from lentil (Lens culinaris L.) root nodules but not in pea (Pisum sativum L.) bacteroids. Moreover, heterologous expression of the R. leguminosarum hup system in bacteroid cells of Rhizobium tropici and Mesorhizobium loti displayed reduced levels of hydrogen uptake in the absence of hupE. These data support the role of R. leguminosarum HupE as a nickel permease required for hydrogen uptake under both free-living and symbiotic conditions.
PMCID: PMC2812973  PMID: 20023036
25.  Identification of the nik Gene Cluster of Brucella suis: Regulation and Contribution to Urease Activity 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(2):426-434.
Analysis of a Brucella suis 1330 gene fused to a gfp reporter, and identified as being induced in J774 murine macrophage-like cells, allowed the isolation of a gene homologous to nikA, the first gene of the Escherichia coli operon encoding the specific transport system for nickel. DNA sequence analysis of the corresponding B. suis nik locus showed that it was highly similar to that of E. coli except for localization of the nikR regulatory gene, which lies upstream from the structural nikABCDE genes and in the opposite orientation. Protein sequence comparisons suggested that the deduced nikABCDE gene products belong to a periplasmic binding protein-dependent transport system. The nikA promoter-gfp fusion was activated in vitro by low oxygen tension and metal ion deficiency and was repressed by NiCl2 excess. Insertional inactivation of nikA strongly reduced the activity of the nickel metalloenzyme urease, which was restored by addition of a nickel excess. Moreover, the nikA mutant of B. suis was functionally complemented with the E. coli nik gene cluster, leading to the recovery of urease activity. Reciprocally, an E. coli strain harboring a deleted nik operon recovered hydrogenase activity by heterologous complementation with the B. suis nik locus. Taking into account these results, we propose that the nik locus of B. suis encodes a nickel transport system. The results further suggest that nickel could enter B. suis via other transport systems. Intracellular growth rates of the B. suis wild-type and nikA mutant strains in human monocytes were similar, indicating that nikA was not essential for this step of infection. We discuss a possible role of nickel transport in maintaining enzymatic activities which could be crucial for survival of the bacteria under the environmental conditions encountered within the host.
PMCID: PMC94896  PMID: 11133934

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