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Mol Microbiol. 2001 May;40(3):708-18.

Cloning and functional characterization of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa rhlC gene that encodes rhamnosyltransferase 2, an enzyme responsible for di-rhamnolipid biosynthesis.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen capable of producing a wide variety of virulence factors, including extracellular rhamnolipids and lipopolysaccharide. Rhamnolipids are tenso-active glycolipids containing one (mono-rhamnolipid) or two (di-rhamnolipid) L-rhamnose molecules. Rhamnosyltransferase 1 (RhlAB) catalyses the synthesis of mono-rhamnolipid from dTDP-L-rhamnose and beta-hydroxydecanoyl-beta-hydroxydecanoate, whereas di-rhamnolipid is produced from mono-rhamnolipid and dTDP-L-rhamnose. We report here the molecular characterization of rhlC, a gene encoding the rhamnosyltransferase involved in di-rhamnolipid (L-rhamnose-L-rhamnose-beta-hydroxydecanoyl-beta-hydroxydecanoate) production in P. aeruginosa. RhlC is a protein consisting of 325 amino acids with a molecular mass of 35.9 kDa. It contains consensus motifs that are found in other glycosyltransferases involved in the transfer of L-rhamnose to nascent polymer chains. To verify the biological function of RhlC, a chromosomal mutant, RTII-2, was generated by insertional mutagenesis and allelic replacement. This mutant was unable to produce di-rhamnolipid, whereas mono-rhamnolipid was unaffected. In contrast, a null rhlA mutant (PAO1-rhlA) was incapable of producing both mono- and di-rhamnolipid. Complementation of mutant RTII-2 with plasmid pRTII-26 containing rhlC restored the level of di-rhamnolipid production in the recombinant to a level similar to that of the wild-type strain PAO1. The rhlC gene was located in an operon with an upstream gene (PA1131) of unknown function. A sigma54-type promoter for the PA1131-rhlC operon was identified, and a single transcriptional start site was mapped. Expression of the PA1131-rhlC operon was dependent on the P. aeruginosa rhl quorum-sensing system, and a well-conserved lux box was identified in the promoter region. The genetic regulation of rhlC by RpoN and RhlR was in agreement with the observed increasing RhlC rhamnosyltransferase activity during the stationary phase of growth. This is the first report of a rhamnosyltransferase gene responsible for the biosynthesis of di-rhamnolipid.

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