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Mol Microbiol. 1997 Jun;24(6):1285-301.

Identification of a bacterial pectin acetyl esterase in Erwinia chrysanthemi 3937.

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Laboratoire de Genetique Moleculaire des Microorganismes, CNRS-UMR 5577, INSA, Villeurbanne, France.


Erwinia chrysanthemi causes soft-rot diseases of various plants by enzymatic degradation of the pectin in plant cell walls. The structural complexity of pectin requires the combined action of several pectinases for its efficient breakdown. Three types of pectinases have so far been identified in E. chrysanthemi: two pectin methyl esterases (PemA, PemB), a polygalacturonase (PehX), and eight pectate lyases (PelA, PelB, PelC, PelD, PelE, PelL, PelZ, PelX). We report in this paper the analysis of a novel enzyme, the pectin acetyl esterase encoded by the paeY gene. No bacterial form of pectin acetyl esterases has been described previously, while plant tissues and some pectinolytic fungi were found to produce similar enzymes. The paeY gene is present in a cluster of five pectinase-encoding genes, pelA-pelE-pelD-paeY-pemA. The paeY open reading frame is 1650 bases long and encodes a 551-residue precursor protein of 60704Da, including a 25-amino-acid signal peptide. PaeY shares one region of homology with a rhamnogalacturonan acetyl esterase of Aspergillus aculeatus. To characterize the enzyme, the paeY gene was overexpressed and its protein product was purified. PaeY releases acetate from sugar-beet pectin and from various synthetic substrates. Moreover, the enzyme was shown to act in synergy with other pectinases. The de-esterification rate by PaeY increased after previous demethylation of the pectins by PemA and after depolymerization of the pectin by pectate lyases. In addition, the degradation of sugar-beet pectin by pectate lyases is favoured after the removal of methyl and acetyl groups by PemA and PaeY, respectively. The paeY gene was first identified on the basis of its regulation, which shares several characteristics with that of other pectinases. Analysis of the paeY transcription, using gene fusions, revealed that it is induced by pectic catabolic products and is affected by growth phase, oxygen limitation and catabolite repression. Regulation of paeY expression appears to be dependent on the KdgR repressor, which controls all the steps of pectin catabolism, and on the catabolite regulatory protein (CRP), the global activator of sugar catabolism. The contiguous pelD, paeY and pemA genes are transcribed as an operon from a promoter proximal to pelD which allows the regulation by KdgR and CRP. However, transcription can be interrupted at the intra-operon Rho-independent terminator situated between pelD and paeY. The paeY mutant inoculated into Saintpaulia plants was less invasive than the wild-type E. chrysanthemi strain 3937, demonstrating the important role of PaeY in the soft-rot disease.

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