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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Sep;69(9):5398-409.

Hydroxycinnamate (hca) catabolic genes from Acinetobacter sp. strain ADP1 are repressed by HcaR and are induced by hydroxycinnamoyl-coenzyme A thioesters.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8103, USA.


Hydroxycinnamates are plant products catabolized through the diphenol protocatechuate in the naturally transformable bacterium Acinetobacter sp. strain ADP1. Genes for protocatechuate catabolism are central to the dca-pca-qui-pob-hca chromosomal island, for which gene designations corresponding to catabolic function are dca (dicarboxylic acid), pca (protocatechuate), qui (quinate), pob (p-hydroxybenzoate), and hca (hydroxycinnamate). Acinetobacter hcaC had been cloned and shown to encode a hydroxycinnamate:coenzyme A (CoA) SH ligase that acts upon caffeate, p-coumarate, and ferulate, but genes for conversion of hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA to protocatechuate had not been characterized. In this investigation, DNA from pobS to an XbaI site 5.3 kb beyond hcaC was captured in the plasmid pZR8200 by a strategy that involved in vivo integration of a cloning vector near the hca region of the chromosome. pZR8200 enabled Escherichia coli to convert p-coumarate to protocatechuate in vivo. Sequence analysis of the newly cloned DNA identified five open reading frames designated hcaA, hcaB, hcaK, hcaR, and ORF1. An Acinetobacter strain with a knockout of HcaA, a homolog of hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA hydratase/lyases, was unable to grow at the expense of hydroxycinnamates, whereas a strain mutated in HcaB, homologous to aldehyde dehydrogenases, grew poorly with ferulate and caffeate but well with p-coumarate. A chromosomal fusion of lacZ to the hcaE gene was used to monitor expression of the hcaABCDE promoter. LacZ was induced over 100-fold by growth in the presence of caffeate, p-coumarate, or ferulate. The protein deduced to be encoded by hcaR shares 28% identity with the aligned E. coli repressor, MarR. A knockout of hcaR produced a constitutive phenotype, as assessed in the hcaE::lacZ-Km(r) genetic background, revealing HcaR to be a repressor as well. Expression of hcaE::lacZ in strains with knockouts in hcaA, hcaB, or hcaC revealed unambiguously that hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA thioesters relieve repression of the hcaABCDE genes by HcaR.

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