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PLoS One. 2008 Aug 25;3(8):e3053. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003053.

Tyrosine phosphorylation of the UDP-glucose dehydrogenase of Escherichia coli is at the crossroads of colanic acid synthesis and polymyxin resistance.

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Institut de Biologie et Chimie des Protéines, University of Lyon, CNRS, Lyon, France.



In recent years, an idiosyncratic new class of bacterial enzymes, named BY-kinases, has been shown to catalyze protein-tyrosine phosphorylation. These enzymes share no structural and functional similarities with their eukaryotic counterparts and, to date, only few substrates of BY-kinases have been characterized. BY-kinases have been shown to participate in various physiological processes. Nevertheless, we are at a very early stage of defining their importance in the bacterial cell. In Escherichia coli, two BY-kinases, Wzc and Etk, have been characterized biochemically. Wzc has been shown to phosphorylate the UDP-glucose dehydrogenase Ugd in vitro. Not only is Ugd involved in the biosynthesis of extracellular polysaccharides, but also in the production of UDP-4-amino-4-deoxy-L-arabinose, a compound that renders E. coli resistant to cationic antimicrobial peptides.


Here, we studied the role of Ugd phosphorylation. We first confirmed in vivo the phosphorylation of Ugd by Wzc and we demonstrated that Ugd is also phosphorylated by Etk, the other BY-kinase identified in E. coli. Tyrosine 71 (Tyr71) was characterized as the Ugd site phosphorylated by both Wzc and Etk. The regulatory role of Tyr71 phosphorylation on Ugd activity was then assessed and Tyr71 mutation was found to prevent Ugd activation by phosphorylation. Further, Ugd phosphorylation by Wzc or Etk was shown to serve distinct physiological purposes. Phosphorylation of Ugd by Wzc was found to participate in the regulation of the amount of the exopolysaccharide colanic acid, whereas Etk-mediated Ugd phosphorylation appeared to participate in the resistance of E. coli to the antibiotic polymyxin.


Ugd phosphorylation seems to be at the junction between two distinct biosynthetic pathways, illustrating the regulatory potential of tyrosine phosphorylation in bacterial physiology.

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