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J Bacteriol. 2006 Jan;188(2):773-83.

Specificity of acyl-homoserine lactone synthases examined by mass spectrometry.

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Department of Pharmacology, Program in Biomolecular Structure, The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, P.O. Box 8511 MS8303, Aurora CO 80045, USA.


Many gram-negative bacteria produce a specific set of N-acyl-L-homoserine-lactone (AHL) signaling molecules for the purpose of quorum sensing, which is a means of regulating coordinated gene expression in a cell-density-dependent manner. AHLs are produced from acylated acyl-carrier protein (acyl-ACP) and S-adenosyl-L-methionine by the AHL synthase enzyme. The appearance of specific AHLs is due in large part to the intrinsic specificity of the enzyme for subsets of acyl-ACP substrates. Structural studies of the Pantoea stewartii enzyme EsaI and AHL-sensitive bioassays revealed that threonine 140 in the acyl chain binding pocket directs the enzyme toward production of 3-oxo-homoserine lactones. Mass spectrometry was used to examine the range of AHL molecular species produced by AHL synthases under a variety of conditions. An AHL selective normal-phase chromatographic purification with addition of a deuterated AHL internal standard was followed by reverse-phase liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry in order to obtain estimates of the relative amounts of different AHLs from biological samples. The AHLs produced by wild-type and engineered EsaI and LasI AHL synthases show that intrinsic specificity and different cellular conditions influence the production of AHLs. The threonine at position 140 in EsaI is important for the preference for 3-oxo-acyl-ACPs, but the role of the equivalent threonine in LasI is less clear. In addition, LasI expressed in Escherichia coli produces a high proportion of unusual AHLs with acyl chains consisting of an odd number of carbons. Furthermore, these studies offer additional methods that will be useful for surveying and quantitating AHLs from different sources.

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