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Plasmid. 1992 Jan;27(1):17-28.

Resistance to cadmium, cobalt, zinc, and nickel in microbes.

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Institut für Pflanzenphysiologie und Mikrobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany.


The divalent cations of cobalt, zinc, and nickel are essential nutrients for bacteria, required as trace elements at nanomolar concentrations. However, at micro- or millimolar concentrations, Co2+, Zn2+, and Ni2+ (and "bad ions" without nutritional roles such as Cd2+) are toxic. These cations are transported into the cell by constitutively expressed divalent cation uptake systems of broad specificity, i.e., basically Mg2+ transport systems. Therefore, in case of a heavy metal stress, uptake of the toxic ions cannot be reduced by a simple down-regulation of the transport activity. As a response to the resulting metal toxicity, metal resistance determinants evolved which are mostly plasmid-encoded in bacteria. In contrast to that of the cation Hg2+, chemical reduction of Co2+, Zn2+, Ni2+, and Cd2+ by the cell is not possible or sensible. Therefore, other than mutations limiting the ion range of the uptake system, only two basic mechanisms of resistance to these ions are possible (and were developed by evolution): intracellular complexation of the toxic metal ion is mainly used in eucaryotes; the cadmium-binding components are phytochelatins in plant and yeast cells and metallothioneins in animals, plants, and yeasts. In contrast, reduced accumulation based on an active efflux of the cation is the primary mechanism developed in procaryotes and perhaps in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. All bacterial cation efflux systems characterized to date are plasmid-encoded and inducible but differ in energy-coupling and in the number and types of proteins involved in metal transport and in regulation. In the gram-positive multiple-metal-resistant bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, Cd2+ (and probably Zn2+) efflux is catalyzed by the membrane-bound CadA protein, a P-type ATPase. However, a second protein (CadC) is required for full resistance and a third one (CadR) is hypothesized for regulation of the resistance determinant. The czc determinant from the gram-negative multiple-metal-resistant bacterium Alcaligenes eutrophus encodes proteins required for Co2+, Zn2+, and Cd2+ efflux (CzcA, CzcB, and CzcC) and regulation of the czc determinant (CzcD). In the current working model CzcA works as a cation-proton antiporter, CzcB as a cation-binding subunit, and CzcC as a modifier protein required to change the substrate specificity of the system from Zn2+ only to Co2+, Zn2+, and Cd2+.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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