Adaptational modification and ligand occupancy have opposite effects on positioning of the transmembrane signalling helix of a chemoreceptor

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Sensory systems adapt to persistent stimulation. In the transmembrane receptors of bacterial chemotaxis, adaptation is mediated by methylation at specific glutamyl residues in the cytoplasmic domain. Methylation counteracts effects of ligand binding on functional activities of that domain. Both ligand binding and adaptational modification are thought to act through conformational changes. As characterized for Escherichia coli chemoreceptors, a mechanistically crucial feature of the ligand-induced conformational change is piston sliding towards the cytoplasm of a signalling helix in the periplasmic/transmembrane domain. Adaptational modification could counteract this signalling movement by blocking its influence on the cytoplasmic domain or by reversing it. To investigate, we characterized effects of adaptational modification on the position of the signalling helix in chemoreceptor Trg using rates of disulphide formation between introduced cysteines. We utilized an intact cell procedure in which receptors were in their native, functional state. In vivo rates of disulphide formation between diagnostic cysteine pairs spanning a signalling helix interface changed as a function of adaptational modification. Strikingly, those changes were opposite those caused by ligand occupancy for each diagnostic pair tested. This suggests that adaptational modification resets the receptor complex to its null state by reversal of the conformational change generated by ligand binding.

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