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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Jan;39(2):341-50.

Identification of a lipopolysaccharide alpha-2,3-sialyltransferase from Haemophilus influenzae.

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Molecular Infectious Diseases Group, University of Oxford Department of Paediatrics, Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 9DS, UK.


We have identified a gene for the addition of N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) in an alpha-2,3-linkage to a lactosyl acceptor moiety of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of the human pathogen Haemophilus influenzae. The gene is one that was identified previously as a phase-variable gene known as lic3A. Extracts of H. influenzae, as well as recombinant Escherichia coli strains producing Lic3A, demonstrate sialyltransferase activity in assays using synthetic fluorescent acceptors with a terminal galactosyl, lactosyl or N-acetyl-lactosaminyl moiety. In the RM118 strain of H. influenzae, Lic3A activity is modulated by the action of another phase-variable glycosyltransferase, LgtC, which competes for the same lactosyl acceptor moiety. Structural analysis of LPS from a RM118:lgtC mutant and the non-typeable strain 486 using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy confirmed that the major sialylated species has a sialyl-alpha-(2-3)-lactosyl extension off the distal heptose. This sialylated glycoform was absent in strains containing a lic3A gene disruption. Low amounts of sialylated higher molecular mass glycoforms were present in RM118:lgtC lic3A, indicating the presence of a second sialyltransferase. Lic3A mutants of H. influenzae strains show reduced resistance to the killing effects of normal human serum. Lic3A, encoding an alpha-2,3-sialyltransferase activity, is the first reported phase-variable sialyltransferase gene.

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