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J Biol Chem. 2005 Aug 26;280(34):30214-24. Epub 2005 Jun 30.

A Leptospira interrogans enzyme with similarity to yeast Ste14p that methylates the 1-phosphate group of lipid A.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Distinct from other spirochetes, cells of Leptospira interrogans contain orthologues of all the Escherichia coli lpx genes required for lipid A biosynthesis, but they synthesize a modified form of lipopolysaccharide that supposedly activates toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) instead of TLR4. The recent determination of the L. interrogans lipid A structure revealed an unprecedented O-methylation of its 1-phosphate group (Que-Gewirth, N. L. S., Ribeiro, A. A., Kalb, S. R., Cotter, R. J., Bulach, D. M., Adler, B., Saint Girons, I., Werts, C., and Raetz, C. R. H. (2004) J. Biol. Chem. 279, 25420-25429). The enzymatic activity responsible for selective 1-phosphate methylation has not been previously explored. A membrane enzyme that catalyzes the transfer of a methyl group from S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) to the 1-phosphate moiety of E. coli Kdo2-[4'-(32)P]lipid A has now been discovered. The gene encoding this enzyme was identified based on the hypothesis that methylation of a phosphate group is chemically analogous to methylation of a carboxylate moiety at a membrane-water interface. Database searching revealed a candidate gene (renamed lmtA) in L. interrogans showing distant homology to the yeast isoprenylcysteine carboxyl methyltransferase, encoded by sterile-14, which methylates the a-type mating factor. Orthologues of lmtA were not present in E. coli, the lipid A of which normally lacks the 1-phosphomethyl group, or in other spirochetes, which do not synthesize lipid A. Expression of the lmtA gene behind the lac promoter on a low copy plasmid resulted in the appearance of SAM-dependent methyltransferase activity in E. coli inner membranes and methylation of about 30% of the endogenous E. coli lipid A. Inactivation of the ABC transporter MsbA did not inhibit methylation of newly synthesized lipid A. Methylated E. coli lipid A was analyzed by mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy to confirm the location of the phosphomethyl group at the 1-position. In human cells, engineered to express the individual TLR subtypes, 1-phosphomethyl-lipid A purified from lmtA-expressing E. coli potently activated TLR4 but not TLR2.

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