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J Mol Biol. 2008 Aug 29;381(2):300-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.06.018. Epub 2008 Jun 13.

Differential recognition of Staphylococcus aureus quorum-sensing signals depends on both extracellular loops 1 and 2 of the transmembrane sensor AgrC.

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Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK.


Virulence in Staphylococcus aureus is regulated via agr-dependent quorum sensing in which an autoinducing peptide (AIP) activates AgrC, a histidine protein kinase. AIPs are usually thiolactones containing seven to nine amino acid residues in which the thiol of the central cysteine is linked to the alpha-carboxyl of the C-terminal amino acid residue. The staphylococcal agr locus has diverged such that the AIPs of the four different S. aureus agr groups self-activate but cross-inhibit. Consequently, although the agr system is conserved among the staphylococci, it has undergone significant evolutionary divergence whereby to retain functionality, any changes in the AIP-encoding gene (agrD) that modifies AIP structure must be accompanied by corresponding changes in the AgrC receptor. Since AIP-1 and AIP-4 only differ by a single amino acid, we compared the transmembrane topology of AgrC1 and AgrC4 to identify amino acid residues involved in AIP recognition. As only two of the three predicted extracellular loops exhibited amino acid differences, site-specific mutagenesis was used to exchange the key AgrC1 and AgrC4 amino acid residues in each loop either singly or in combination. A novel lux-based agrP3 reporter gene fusion was constructed to evaluate the response of the mutated AgrC receptors. The data obtained revealed that while differential recognition of AIP-1 and AIP-4 depends primarily on three amino acid residues in loop 2, loop 1 is essential for receptor activation by the cognate AIP. Furthermore, a single mutation in the AgrC1 loop 2 resulted in conversion of (Ala5)AIP-1 from a potent antagonist to an activator, essentially resulting in the forced evolution of a new AIP group. Taken together, our data indicate that loop 2 constitutes the predicted hydrophobic pocket that binds the AIP thiolactone ring while the exocyclic amino acid tail interacts with loop 1 to facilitate receptor activation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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