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1.  Production of Proteasome Inhibitor Syringolin A by the Endophyte Rhizobium sp. Strain AP16 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2014;80(12):3741-3748.
Syringolin A, the product of a mixed nonribosomal peptide synthetase/polyketide synthase encoded by the syl gene cluster, is a virulence factor secreted by certain Pseudomonas syringae strains. Together with the glidobactins produced by a number of beta- and gammaproteobacterial human and animal pathogens, it belongs to the syrbactins, a structurally novel class of proteasome inhibitors. In plants, proteasome inhibition by syringolin A-producing P. syringae strains leads to the suppression of host defense pathways requiring proteasome activity, such as the ones mediated by salicylic acid and jasmonic acid. Here we report the discovery of a syl-like gene cluster with some unusual features in the alphaproteobacterial endophyte Rhizobium sp. strain AP16 that encodes a putative syringolin A-like synthetase whose components share 55% to 65% sequence identity (72% to 79% similarity) at the amino acid level. As revealed by average nucleotide identity (ANI) calculations, this strain likely belongs to the same species as biocontrol strain R. rhizogenes K84 (formely known as Agrobacterium radiobacter K84), which, however, carries a nonfunctional deletion remnant of the syl-like gene cluster. Here we present a functional analysis of the syl-like gene cluster of Rhizobium sp. strain AP16 and demonstrate that this endophyte synthesizes syringolin A and some related minor variants, suggesting that proteasome inhibition by syrbactin production can be important not only for pathogens but also for endophytic bacteria in the interaction with their hosts.
PMCID: PMC4054136  PMID: 24727275
2.  Stability of Microbiota Facilitated by Host Immune Regulation: Informing Probiotic Strategies to Manage Amphibian Disease 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87101.
Microbial communities can augment host immune responses and probiotic therapies are under development to prevent or treat diseases of humans, crops, livestock, and wildlife including an emerging fungal disease of amphibians, chytridiomycosis. However, little is known about the stability of host-associated microbiota, or how the microbiota is structured by innate immune factors including antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) abundant in the skin secretions of many amphibians. Thus, conservation medicine including therapies targeting the skin will benefit from investigations of amphibian microbial ecology that provide a model for vertebrate host-symbiont interactions on mucosal surfaces. Here, we tested whether the cutaneous microbiota of Panamanian rocket frogs, Colostethus panamansis, was resistant to colonization or altered by treatment. Under semi-natural outdoor mesocosm conditions in Panama, we exposed frogs to one of three treatments including: (1) probiotic - the potentially beneficial bacterium Lysinibacillus fusiformis, (2) transplant – skin washes from the chytridiomycosis-resistant glass frog Espadarana prosoblepon, and (3) control – sterile water. Microbial assemblages were analyzed by a culture-independent T-RFLP analysis. We found that skin microbiota of C. panamansis was resistant to colonization and did not differ among treatments, but shifted through time in the mesocosms. We describe regulation of host AMPs that may function to maintain microbial community stability. Colonization resistance was metabolically costly and microbe-treated frogs lost 7–12% of body mass. The discovery of strong colonization resistance of skin microbiota suggests a well-regulated, rather than dynamic, host-symbiont relationship, and suggests that probiotic therapies aiming to enhance host immunity may require an approach that circumvents host mechanisms maintaining equilibrium in microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3906108  PMID: 24489847
3.  Tolerance of fungal infection in European water frogs exposed to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis after experimental reduction of innate immune defenses 
While emerging diseases are affecting many populations of amphibians, some populations are resistant. Determining the relative contributions of factors influencing disease resistance is critical for effective conservation management. Innate immune defenses in amphibian skin are vital host factors against a number of emerging pathogens such as ranaviruses and the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Adult water frogs from Switzerland (Pelophylax esculentus and P. lessonae) collected in the field with their natural microbiota intact were exposed to Bd after experimental reduction of microbiota, skin peptides, both, or neither to determine the relative contributions of these defenses.
Naturally-acquired Bd infections were detected in 10/51 P. lessonae and 4/19 P. esculentus, but no disease outbreaks or population declines have been detected at this site. Thus, this population was immunologically primed, and disease resistant. No mortality occurred during the 64 day experiment. Forty percent of initially uninfected frogs became sub-clinically infected upon experimental exposure to Bd. Reduction of both skin peptide and microbiota immune defenses caused frogs to gain less mass when exposed to Bd than frogs in other treatments. Microbiota-reduced frogs increased peptide production upon Bd infection. Ranavirus was undetectable in all but two frogs that appeared healthy in the field, but died within a week under laboratory conditions. Virus was detectable in both toe-clips and internal organs.
Intact skin microbiota reduced immune activation and can minimize subclinical costs of infection. Tolerance of Bd or ranavirus infection may differ with ecological conditions.
PMCID: PMC3485127  PMID: 23088169
Amphibian; Antimicrobial peptide; Chytridiomycosis; MALDI-MS; Microbiota; Pelophylax; Ranavirus
4.  The Leucine Zipper Domains of the Transcription Factors GCN4 and c-Jun Have Ribonuclease Activity 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10765.
Basic-region leucine zipper (bZIP) proteins are one of the largest transcription factor families that regulate a wide range of cellular functions. Owing to the stability of their coiled coil structure leucine zipper (LZ) domains of bZIP factors are widely employed as dimerization motifs in protein engineering studies. In the course of one such study, the X-ray structure of the retro-version of the LZ moiety of yeast transcriptional activator GCN4 suggested that this retro-LZ may have ribonuclease activity. Here we show that not only the retro-LZ but also the authentic LZ of GCN4 has weak but distinct ribonuclease activity. The observed cleavage of RNA is unspecific, it is not suppressed by the ribonuclease A inhibitor RNasin and involves the breakage of 3′,5′-phosphodiester bonds with formation of 2′,3′-cyclic phosphates as the final products as demonstrated by HPLC/electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Several mutants of the GCN4 leucine zipper are catalytically inactive, providing important negative controls and unequivocally associating the enzymatic activity with the peptide under study. The leucine zipper moiety of the human factor c-Jun as well as the entire c-Jun protein are also shown to catalyze degradation of RNA. The presented data, which was obtained in the test-tube experiments, adds GCN4 and c-Jun to the pool of proteins with multiple functions (also known as moonlighting proteins). If expressed in vivo, the endoribonuclease activity of these bZIP-containing factors may represent a direct coupling between transcription activation and controlled RNA turnover. As an additional result of this work, the retro-leucine zipper of GCN4 can be added to the list of functional retro-peptides.
PMCID: PMC2874015  PMID: 20505831
5.  Biosynthesis of the proteasome inhibitor syringolin A: the ureido group joining two amino acids originates from bicarbonate 
BMC Biochemistry  2009;10:26.
Syringolin A, an important virulence factor in the interaction of the phytopathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae B728a with its host plant Phaseolus vulgaris (bean), was recently shown to irreversibly inhibit eukaryotic proteasomes by a novel mechanism. Syringolin A is synthesized by a mixed non-ribosomal peptide synthetase/polyketide synthetase and consists of a tripeptide part including a twelve-membered ring with an N-terminal valine that is joined to a second valine via a very unusual ureido group. Analysis of sequence and architecture of the syringolin A synthetase gene cluster with the five open reading frames sylA-sylE allowed to formulate a biosynthesis model that explained all structural features of the tripeptide part of syringolin A but left the biosynthesis of the unusual ureido group unaccounted for.
We have cloned a 22 kb genomic fragment containing the sylA-sylE gene cluster but no other complete gene into the broad host range cosmid pLAFR3. Transfer of the recombinant cosmid into Pseudomonas putida and P. syringae pv. syringae SM was sufficient to direct the biosynthesis of bona fide syringolin A in these heterologous organisms whose genomes do not contain homologous genes. NMR analysis of syringolin A isolated from cultures grown in the presence of NaH13CO3 revealed preferential 13C-labeling at the ureido carbonyl position.
The results show that no additional syringolin A-specific genes were needed for the biosynthesis of the enigmatic ureido group joining two amino acids. They reveal the source of the ureido carbonyl group to be bicarbonate/carbon dioxide, which we hypothesize is incorporated by carbamylation of valine mediated by the sylC gene product(s). A similar mechanism may also play a role in the biosynthesis of other ureido-group-containing NRPS products known largely from cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC2773804  PMID: 19863801

Results 1-5 (5)