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J Biol Chem. 2006 Sep 29;281(39):28981-92. Epub 2006 Jun 12.

Structural characterization of a K-antigen capsular polysaccharide essential for normal symbiotic infection in Rhizobium sp. NGR234: deletion of the rkpMNO locus prevents synthesis of 5,7-diacetamido-3,5,7,9-tetradeoxy-non-2-ulosonic acid.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes Supérieures (LBMPS), Université de Genève, 1292 Genève, Switzerland.


Many early molecular events in symbiotic infection have been documented, although factors enabling Rhizobium to progress within the plant-derived infection thread and ultimately survive within the intracellular symbiosome compartment as mature nitrogen-fixing bacteroids are poorly understood. Rhizobial surface polysaccharides (SPS), including the capsular polysaccharides (K-antigens), exist in close proximity to plant-derived membranes throughout the infection process. SPSs are essential for bacterial survival, adaptation, and as potential determinants of nodulation and/or host specificity. Relatively few studies have examined the role of K-antigens in these events. However, we constructed a mutant that lacks genes essential for the production of the K-antigen strain-specific sugar precursor, pseudaminic acid, in the broad host range Rhizobium sp. NGR234. The complete structure of the K-antigen of strain NGR234 was established, and it consists of disaccharide repeating units of glucuronic and pseudaminic acid having the structure -->4)-beta-d-glucuronic acid-(1-->4)-beta-5,7-diacetamido-3,5,7,9-tetradeoxy-l-glycero-l-manno-nonulosonic acid-(2-->. Deletion of three genes located in the rkp-3 gene cluster, rkpM, rkpN, and part of rkpO, abolished pseudaminic acid synthesis, yielding a mutant in which the strain-specific K-antigen was totally absent: other surface glycoconjugates, including the lipopolysaccharides, exopolysaccharides, and flagellin glycoprotein appeared unaffected. The NGRDeltarkpMNO mutant was symbiotically defective, showing reduced nodulation efficiency on several legumes. K-antigen production was found to decline after rhizobia were exposed to plant flavonoids, and the decrease coincided with induction of a symbiotically active (bacteroid-specific) rhamnan-LPS, suggesting an exchange of SPS occurs during bacterial differentiation in the developing nodule.

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