Structural and Functional Studies on the Mycobacterium tuberculosis σ factor σJ
Regulation of transcription in prokaryotes is primarily governed at the transcription initiation step. This feature has been extensively characterized in model prokaryotes notably Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. Transcription initiation was initially thought to be governed primarily by initiation factors that recruit the RNA polymerase (RNAP) enzyme to initiate expression of given gene. Recent studies reveal multiple mechanisms at play including additional protein factors that can modulate gene expression. Nonetheless, understanding transcription factors is key to rationalize the nuanced changes in prokaryotic gene expression in response to diverse environmental stimuli. This is particularly relevant in the case of the human pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, especially due to the ability of this bacterium to survive in the host, often for several decades prior to the onset of the disease. Transcription initiation factors, also called σ factors in prokaryotes, are diverse in size and sensory/regulatory mechanisms. Indeed, the number of alternate σ factors vary substantially from six in E. coli to more than 118 in Plesiocystis pacifica. The large number of alternative σ factors has been suggested to be correlated with the diversity of micro-environments experienced by a bacterial cell. Studies on several prokaryotic σ factors reveal common features in these proteins that was not evident earlier due to poor sequence conservation. A central theme that emerges from these studies is that a minimalistic architecture of two domains can recognize promoter DNA and recruit the RNAP enzyme to initiate transcription. Additional domains are required when certain promoter elements are missing or to enable a specific, context dependent regulatory mechanism. The work reported in this thesis was influenced by previous studies in this laboratory and elsewhere on M. tuberculosis σ factors. While these studies revealed multiple features of transcription initiation, several aspects of this mechanism, including some classes of σ factors remain to be examined. The focus of this study was to examine an under-explored sub-group of σ factors, classified as the ECF41 sub-group. This sub-group has an additional domain at the Carboxy-terminus that has been hypothesised to influence σ factor activity. Towards this goal, M. tuberculosis σJ was examined. Previous studies suggested a role for this σ factor in modulating the response to hydrogen peroxide stress. An intriguing feature based on sequence analysis was that neither did this extra-cytoplasmic function σ factor have an anti-σ factor that can respond to oxidative stress nor was it directly associated with a mechanism to sense oxidative stress. The specific goal of the research described here was to understand the structural and mechanistic features that govern σJ activity. This thesis is organized as follows- The first chapter provides a brief introduction to prokaryotic transcription and regulatory mechanisms that govern this process. This chapter also has the literature necessary to phrase the problem in characterizing this family of proteins with particular reference to the unique physiology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. A summary of the previous work is provided in this chapter to place the current study in context of previous studies and highlight the lacunae in our understanding of the transcription mechanism in M. tuberculosis. Chapter two describes the structural characterization of M. tuberculosis σJ by single-crystal X-ray diffraction. The poor sequence similarity of σJ to known σ factors precluded efforts to obtain phase information by molecular replacement methods. Here we also describe the steps that were essential to obtain diffraction quality crystals and the subsequent steps to account for pseudo-merohedral twinning, an imperfection that could have potentially been a limitation for structure determination. The crystal structure of σJ provide an example of successful phase determination with data collected on near-perfectly twinned crystals using single-wavelength anomalous dispersion. Chapter three describes computational efforts to understand the regulatory mechanisms of M. tuberculosis σJ. Classical Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations were performed to understand the role of a C-terminal SnoaL_2 domain in this transcription factor. The MD simulations suggest that the C-terminal SnoaL_2 domain limits inter-domain movements between σJ2 (the pribnow box binding domain) and σJ4 (the -35 promoter element binding domain) and confers a compact three domain organization to this protein. The biochemical and functional characterization of M. tuberculosis σJ is described in chapter four. This includes in vitro studies on σJ and cognate promoter DNA interactions performed using Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) and Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assays (EMSA). The ex vivo reporter based experiments to examine the effect of SnoaL_2 domain on σJ activity are also described. Spectroscopic studies on σJ interactions with a small molecule limonene-1,2-epoxide suggested a potential novel role for the SnoaL_2 domain in σJ. Chapter five summarizes the work on M. tuberculosis σJ reported in this thesis. We note that this study opens up a new perspective to understand σ factors. In particular, M. tuberculosis σJ suggests that the domain organization is likely to be retained in ECF41 sub-group of σ factors. This study also hints at broader implications in the distinction between one-component systems and transcription factors. Bioinformatic analysis suggest that observations similar to that noted in M. tuberculosis σJ are likely to be more widespread across diverse phyla than currently acknowledged. This thesis has three annexures. Annexure-I summarizes experimental details of the work performed on the M. tuberculosis σ/anti-σ factor complex σH/RshA. Annexure-II summarizes experimental details and strategies that could not be incorporated in the main body of this thesis. Annexure-III describes a short project performed on a bi-domain protein tyrosine phosphatase PTP99A.
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