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Mol Microbiol. 1994 Sep;13(5):775-86.

Molecular characterization of the cai operon necessary for carnitine metabolism in Escherichia coli.

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Laboratoire de Génétique Moléculaire des Microorganismes et des Interactions Cellulaires URA 1486 du CNRS, Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, Villeurbanne, France.


The sequence encompassing the cai genes of Escherichia coli, which encode the carnitine pathway, has been determined. Apart from the already identified caiB gene coding for the carnitine dehydratase, five additional open reading frames were identified. They belong to the caiTABCDE operon, which was shown to be located at the first minute on the chromosome and transcribed during anaerobic growth in the presence of carnitine. The activity of carnitine dehydratase was dependent on the CRP regulatory protein and strongly enhanced in the absence of a functional H-NS protein, in relation to the consensus sequences detected in the promoter region of the cai operon. In vivo expression studies led to the synthesis of five polypeptides in addition to CaiB, with predicted molecular masses of 56,613 Da (CaiT), 42,564 Da (CaiA), 59,311 Da (CaiC), 32,329 Da (CaiD) and 21,930 Da (CaiE). Amino acid sequence similarity or enzymatic analysis supported the function assigned to each protein. CaiT was suggested to be the transport system for carnitine or betaines, CaiA an oxidoreduction enzyme, and CaiC a crotonobetaine/carnitine CoA ligase. CaiD bears strong homology with enoyl hydratases/isomerases. Overproduction of CaiE was shown to stimulate the carnitine racemase activity of the CaiD protein and to markedly increase the basal level of carnitine dehydratase activity. It is inferred that CaiE is an enzyme involved in the synthesis or the activation of the still unknown cofactor required for carnitine dehydratase and carnitine racemase activities. Taken together, these data suggest that the carnitine pathway in E. coli resembles that found in a strain situated between Agrobacterium and Rhizobium.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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