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Plant J. 2018 Jun;94(5):813-821. doi: 10.1111/tpj.13896. Epub 2018 Apr 17.

Decomposition of cyanobacterial light harvesting complexes: NblA-dependent role of the bilin lyase homolog NblB.

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The Mina and Everard Goodman, Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel.


Phycobilisomes, the macromolecular light harvesting complexes of cyanobacteria are degraded under nutrient-limiting conditions. This crucial response is required to adjust light excitation to the metabolic status and avoid damage by excess excitation. Phycobilisomes are comprised of phycobiliproteins, apo-proteins that covalently bind bilin chromophores. In the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus, the phycobiliproteins allophycocyanin and phycocyanin comprise the core and the rods of the phycobilisome, respectively. Previously, NblB was identified as an essential component required for phycocyanin degradation under nutrient starvation. This protein is homologous to bilin-lyases, enzymes that catalyze the covalent attachment of bilins to apo-proteins. However, the nblB-inactivated strain is not impaired in phycobiliprotein synthesis, but rather is characterized by aberrant phycocyanin degradation. Here, using a phycocyanin-deficient strain, we demonstrate that NblB is required for degradation of the core pigment, allophycocyanin. Furthermore, we show that the protein NblB is expressed under nutrient sufficient conditions, but during nitrogen starvation its level decreases about two-fold. This finding is in contrast to an additional component essential for degradation, NblA, the expression of which is highly induced under starvation. We further identified NblB residues required for phycocyanin degradation in vivo. Finally, we demonstrate phycocyanin degradation in a cell-free system, thereby providing support for the suggestion that NblB directly mediates pigment degradation by chromophore detachment. The dependence of NblB function on NblA revealed using this system, together with the results indicating presence of NblB under nutrient sufficient conditions, suggests a rapid mechanism for induction of pigment degradation, which requires only the expression of NblA.


Phycobilisome; Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942; allophycocyanin; bilin lyase; cyanobacteria; phycocyanin; pigment degradation; starvation


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