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J Biol Chem. 2001 Oct 12;276(41):38320-8. Epub 2001 Jul 30.

Cyanobacteria perceive nitrogen status by sensing intracellular 2-oxoglutarate levels.

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Instituto de Bioquimica Vegetal y Fotosintesis, Universidad de Sevilla-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Centro de Investigaciones Cientificas Isla de la Cartuja, Avenida Américo Vespucio s/n, Isla de la Cartuja, E-41092 Sevilla, Spain.


The regulatory circuits that control nitrogen metabolism are relatively well known in several bacterial model groups. However, much less is understood about how the nitrogen status of the cell is perceived in vivo. In cyanobacteria, the transcription factor NtcA is required for regulation (activation or repression) of an extensive number of genes involved in nitrogen metabolism. In contrast, how NtcA activity is regulated is largely unknown. Assimilation of ammonium by most microorganisms occurs through the sequential action of two enzymes: glutamine synthetase (GS) and glutamate synthase. Interestingly, regulation of the expression of NtcA-dependent genes in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 is altered in mutants with modified levels of GS activity. Two types of mutants were analyzed: glnA null mutants that lack GS type I and gif mutants unable to inactivate GS in the presence of ammonium. Changes in the intracellular pools of 19 different amino acids and the keto acid 2-oxoglutarate were recorded in wild-type and mutant strains under different nitrogen conditions. Our data strongly indicate that the nitrogen status in cyanobacteria is perceived as changes in the intracellular 2-oxoglutarate pool.

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