Expanding The Horizon Of Mycobacterial Stress Response : Discovery Of A Second (P)PPGPP Synthetase In Mycobacterium Smegmatis
Murdeshwar, Maya S
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The stringent response is a highly conserved physiological response mounted by bacteria under stress (Ojha and Chatterji, 2001; Magnusson et al., 2005; Srivatsan and Wang, 2007; Potrykus and Cashel, 2008). Until recently, the only known players in this pathway were the (p)ppGpp synthesizing and hydrolyzing long RSH enzymes (Mittenhuber, 2001; Atkinson et al., 2011) - RelA and SpoT in Gram negative bacteria and the bifunctional Rel in Gram positive bacteria including mycobacteria. The existence of Short Alarmone Synthetases (SAS) (Lemos et al., 2007, Nanamiya et al., 2008; Das et al., 2009; Atkinson et al., 2011) and Short Alarmone Hydrolases (SAH) (Sun et al., 2010, Atkinson et al., 2011), small proteins possessing a single functional (p)ppGpp synthetase or hydrolase domain respectively, is a recent discovery that has modified this paradigm. Around the same time that the presence of the SAS proteins was reported, we chanced upon such small (p)ppGpp synthetases in the genus Mycobacterium. The stringent response in the soil saprophyte Mycobacterium smegmatis was first reported by Ojha and co-workers (Ojha et al., 2000), and the bifunctional RSH, RelMsm, responsible for mounting the stringent response in this bacterium, has been characterized in detail (Jain et al., 2006 and 2007). RelMsm was the only known RSH enzyme present in M. smegmatis, and consequently, a strain of M. smegmatis deleted for the relMsm gene (ΔrelMsm) (Mathew et al., 2004), was expected to show a null phenotype for (p)ppGpp production. In this body of work, we report the surprising observation that the M. smegmatis ΔrelMsm strain is capable of synthesizing (p)ppGpp in vivo. This unexpected turn of events led us to the discovery of a second (p)ppGpp synthetase in this bacterium. The novel protein was found to possess two functional domains – an RNase HII domain at the amino-terminus, and a (p)ppGpp synthetase or RSD domain at the carboxy-terminus. We have therefore named this protein ‘MS_RHII-RSD’, indicating the two activities present and identifying the organism from which it is isolated. Orthologs of this novel SAS protein occur in other species of mycobacteria, both pathogenic and non-pathogenic. In this study, we report the cloning, purification and in-depth functional characterization of MS_RHII-RSD, and speculate on its in vivo role in M. smegmatis. Chapter 1 reviews the available literature in the field of stringent response research and lays the background to this study. A historical perspective is provided, starting with the discovery of the stringent response in bacteria in the early 1960s, highlighting the development in this area till date. The roles played by the long and short RSH enzymes, ‘Magic Spot’ (p)ppGpp, the RNA polymerase enzyme complex, and a few other RNA and proteins are described, briefly outlining the inferences drawn from recent global gene expression and proteomics studies. The chapter concludes with a description of the motivation behind, and the scope of the present study. Chapter 2 discusses the in vivo and in silico identification of MS_RHII-RSD in M. smegmatis. Experiments performed for the genotypic and phenotypic revalidation of M. smegmatis ΔrelMsm strain are described. Detailed bioinformatics analyses are provided for the in silico characterization of MS_RHII-RSD in terms of its domain architecture, in vivo localization, and protein structure prediction. A comprehensive list of the mycobacterial orthologs of MS_RHII-RSD from a few representative species of infectious and non-infectious mycobacteria is included. Chapter 3 summarizes the materials and methods used in the cloning, purification, and the biophysical and biochemical characterization of full length MS_RHII-RSD and its two domain variants – RHII and RSD, respectively. A detailed description of the purification protocols highlighting the specific modifications and changes made is given. Peptide mass fingerprinting to confirm protein identity, as well as preliminary mass spectrometric, chromatographic, and circular dichroism-based characterization of the proteins under study is also provided. Chapter 4 deals in detail with the in vivo and in vitro functional characterization of the RNase HII and (p)ppGpp synthesis activities of full length MS_RHII-RSD and its two domain variants - RHII and RSD, respectively. The RNase HII activity is characterized in vivo on the basis of a complementation assay in an E. coli strain deleted for the RNase H genes; while in vitro characterization is done by performing a FRET-based assay to monitor the degradation of a RNA•DNA hybrid substrate in vitro. The (p)ppGpp synthesis activity is characterized in terms of the substrate specificity, magnesium ion utilization, and a detailed analysis of the kinetic parameters involved. A comparison of the (p)ppGpp synthesis activity of MS_RHII-RSD vis-à-vis that of the classical RSH protein, RelMsm, is also provided. Inferences drawn from (p)ppGpp hydrolysis assays and the in vivo expression profile of MS_RHII-RSD in M. smegmatis wild type and ΔrelMsm strains are discussed. Based on the results of these functional assays, a model is proposed suggesting the probable in vivo role played by MS_RHII-RSD in M. smegmatis. Chapter 5 describes the attempts at generating MS_RHII-RSD overexpression and knockout strains in M. smegmatis, using pJAM2-based mycobacterial expression system, and mycobacteriophage-based specialized transduction strategy, respectively. The detailed methodology and the principle behind the techniques used are explained. The results obtained so far, and the future work and strain characterization to be carried out in this respect are discussed. Chapter 6 takes a slightly different route and summarizes the work carried out in characterizing the glycopeptidolipids (GPLs) from M. smegmatis biofilm cultures. A general introduction about the mycobacterial cell wall components, with special emphasis on GPLs, is provided. The detailed protocols for chemical composition and chromatographic analyses are mentioned, and the future scope of this work is discussed. Appendix-1 briefly revisits the preliminary studies performed to determine the pppGpp binding site on M. smegmatis RNA polymerase using a mass spectrometry-based approach. Appendices-2, 3, 4 and 5 give a comprehensive list of the bacterial strains; PCR primers; antibiotics, buffers and media used; and the plasmid and phasmid maps, respectively.