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J Bacteriol. 2008 May;190(9):3147-54. doi: 10.1128/JB.00080-08. Epub 2008 Mar 7.

RhlA converts beta-hydroxyacyl-acyl carrier protein intermediates in fatty acid synthesis to the beta-hydroxydecanoyl-beta-hydroxydecanoate component of rhamnolipids in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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  • 1Department of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 332 N. Lauderdale, Memphis, TN 38105-2794, USA.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa secretes a rhamnolipid (RL) surfactant that functions in hydrophobic nutrient uptake, swarming motility, and pathogenesis. We show that RhlA supplies the acyl moieties for RL biosynthesis by competing with the enzymes of the type II fatty acid synthase (FASII) cycle for the beta-hydroxyacyl-acyl carrier protein (ACP) pathway intermediates. Purified RhlA forms one molecule of beta-hydroxydecanoyl-beta-hydroxydecanoate from two molecules of beta-hydroxydecanoyl-ACP and is the only enzyme required to generate the lipid component of RL. The acyl groups in RL are primarily beta-hydroxydecanoyl, and in vitro, RhlA has a greater affinity for 10-carbon substrates, illustrating that RhlA functions as a molecular ruler that selectively extracts 10-carbon intermediates from FASII. Eliminating either FabA or FabI activity in P. aeruginosa increases RL production, illustrating that slowing down FASII allows RhlA to more-effectively compete for beta-hydroxydecanoyl-ACP. In Escherichia coli, the rate of fatty acid synthesis increases 1.3-fold when RhlA is expressed, to ensure the continued formation of fatty acids destined for membrane phospholipid even though 24% of the carbon entering FASII is diverted to RL synthesis. Previous studies have placed a ketoreductase, called RhlG, before RhlA in the RL biosynthetic pathway; however, our experiments show that RhlG has no role in RL biosynthesis. We conclude that RhlA is necessary and sufficient to form the acyl moiety of RL and that the flux of carbon through FASII accelerates to support RL production and maintain a supply of acyl chains for phospholipid synthesis.

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