Thirteen serotypes of Shigella flexneri (S. flexneri) have been recognised, all of which are capable of causing bacillary dysentery or shigellosis. With the emergence of the newer S. flexneri serotypes, the development of an effective vaccine has only become more challenging. One of the factors responsible for the generation of serotype diversity is an LPS O-antigen modifying, integral membrane protein known as O-acetyltransferase or Oac. Oac functions by adding an acetyl group to a specific O-antigen sugar, thus changing the antigenic signature of the parent S. flexneri strain. Oac is a membrane protein, consisting of hydrophobic and hydrophilic components. Oac bears homology to several known and predicted acetyltransferases with most homology existing in the N-terminal transmembrane (TM) regions.
In this study, the conserved motifs in the TM regions and in hydrophilic loops of S. flexneri Oac were targeted for mutagenesis with the aim of identifying the amino acid residues essential for the function of Oac. We previously identified three critical arginines–R73, R75 and R76 in the cytoplasmic loop 3 of Oac. Re-establishing that these arginines are critical, in this study we suggest a catalytic role for R73 and a structural role for R75 and R76 in O-acetylation. Serine-glycine motifs (SG 52–53, GS 138–139 and SYG 274–276), phenylalanine-proline motifs (FP 78–79 and FPV 282–84) and a tryptophan-threonine motif (WT141-142) found in TM segments and residues RK 110–111, GR 269–270 and D333 found in hydrophilic loops were also found to be critical to Oac function.
By studying the effect of the mutations on Oac’s function and assembly, an insight into the possible roles played by the chosen amino acids in Oac was gained. The transmembrane serine-glycine motifs and hydrophilic residues (RK 110–111, GR 269–270 and D333) were shown to have an affect on Oac assembly which suggests a structural role for these motifs. The phenylalanine-proline and the tryptophan-threonine motifs affect Oac function which could suggest a catalytic role for these amino acids.