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J Bacteriol. 2017 Jun 13;199(13). pii: e00189-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00189-17. Print 2017 Jul 1.

Distinct Domains of CheA Confer Unique Functions in Chemotaxis and Cell Length in Azospirillum brasilense Sp7.

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Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA


Chemotaxis is the movement of cells in response to gradients of diverse chemical cues. Motile bacteria utilize a conserved chemotaxis signal transduction system to bias their motility and navigate through a gradient. A central regulator of chemotaxis is the histidine kinase CheA. This cytoplasmic protein interacts with membrane-bound receptors, which assemble into large polar arrays, to propagate the signal. In the alphaproteobacterium Azospirillum brasilense, Che1 controls transient increases in swimming speed during chemotaxis, but it also biases the cell length at division. However, the exact underlying molecular mechanisms for Che1-dependent control of multiple cellular behaviors are not known. Here, we identify specific domains of the CheA1 histidine kinase implicated in modulating each of these functions. We show that CheA1 is produced in two isoforms: a membrane-anchored isoform produced as a fusion with a conserved seven-transmembrane domain of unknown function (TMX) at the N terminus and a soluble isoform similar to prototypical CheA. Site-directed and deletion mutagenesis combined with behavioral assays confirm the role of CheA1 in chemotaxis and implicate the TMX domain in mediating changes in cell length. Fluorescence microscopy further reveals that the membrane-anchored isoform is distributed around the cell surface while the soluble isoform localizes at the cell poles. Together, the data provide a mechanism for the role of Che1 in controlling multiple unrelated cellular behaviors via acquisition of a new domain in CheA1 and production of distinct functional isoforms.IMPORTANCE Chemotaxis provides a significant competitive advantage to bacteria in the environment, and this function has been transferred laterally multiple times, with evidence of functional divergence in different genomic contexts. The molecular principles that underlie functional diversification of chemotaxis in various genomic contexts are unknown. Here, we provide a molecular mechanism by which a single CheA protein controls two unrelated functions: chemotaxis and cell length. Acquisition of this multifunctionality is seemingly a recent evolutionary event. The findings illustrate a mechanism by which chemotaxis function may be co-opted to regulate additional cellular functions.


Azospirillum; chemotaxis; signal transduction

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