Conversion of a bacterial warm sensor to a cold sensor by methylation of a single residue in the presence of an attractant

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The aspartate chemoreceptor (Tar) of Escherichia coli also serves as a thermosensor, and it is very amenable to genetic and biochemical analysis of the thermosensing mechanism. Its thermosensing properties are controlled by reversible methylation of the cytoplasmic signalling/adaptation domain of the protein. The unmethylated and the fully methylated (aspartate-bound) receptors sense, as attractant stimuli, increases (warm sensor) and decreases (cold sensor) in temperature respectively. To learn more about the mechanism of thermosensing, we replaced the four methyl-accepting glutamyl residues with non-methylatable aspartyl residues in all possible combinations. In a strain defective in both methyltransferase (CheR) and methylesterase (CheB) activities, all of the mutant Tar proteins functioned as warm sensors. To create a situation in which all of the remaining glutamyl residues were methylated, we expressed the mutant proteins in a CheB-defective, CheR-overproducing strain. The fully glutamyl-methylated proteins were designed to mimic the full range of methylation states possible for wild-type Tar. Almost all of the methylated mutant receptors, including those with single glutamyl residues, were cold sensors in the presence of aspartate. Thus, binding of aspartate to Tar and methylation of its single glutamyl residue can invert its temperature-dependent signalling properties.

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