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J Bacteriol. 2004 Jan;186(2):445-53.

The HWE histidine kinases, a new family of bacterial two-component sensor kinases with potentially diverse roles in environmental signaling.

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  • 1Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1574, USA.


Two-component signal transduction pathways play a major role in the response of bacteria to external cues. These pathways are initiated by large collection of histidine kinases (HKs) containing a sensor domain that perceives the environmental signal followed by an HK domain that triggers a histidine-aspartate phosphorelay. Previous phylogenetic analyses identified 11 major families of two-component HKs by comparing signature motifs within the HK domain. Here we describe a new family with homology to Agrobacterium tumefaciens BphP2, an HK first discovered by the presence of a phytochrome sensor domain involved in light perception. Members of this sensor HK family differ from most others by the absence of a recognizable F box and the presence of several uniquely conserved residues, including a histidine in the N box and a tryptophan-X-glutamic acid sequence in the G1 box, which we have used to define the family (HWE). At least 81 members were identified in a variety of alpha- and gamma-proteobacteria, with a significant enrichment in the Rhizobiaceae family. Several representatives were shown to have HK activity in vitro, supporting their proposed participation in phosphorelays. One or more domains related to signal transduction were evident N-terminal to the HK domain, including chemotactic methyltransferase domains, suggesting that this family has multiple roles in environmental signaling. The discovery of the HWE family further extends the diversity within the HK superfamily and expands the importance of two-component signaling in bacteria.

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