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EMBO J. 1998 Aug 3;17(15):4238-48.

Response regulator output in bacterial chemotaxis.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, NJ 08544, USA.


Chemotaxis responses in Escherichia coli are mediated by the phosphorylated response-regulator protein P-CheY. Biochemical and genetic studies have established the mechanisms by which the various components of the chemotaxis system, the membrane receptors and Che proteins function to modulate levels of CheY phosphorylation. Detailed models have been formulated to explain chemotaxis sensing in quantitative terms; however, the models cannot be adequately tested without knowledge of the quantitative relationship between P-CheY and bacterial swimming behavior. A computerized image analysis system was developed to collect extensive statistics on freeswimming and individual tethered cells. P-CheY levels were systematically varied by controlled expression of CheY in an E.coli strain lacking the CheY phosphatase, CheZ, and the receptor demethylating enzyme CheB. Tumbling frequency was found to vary with P-CheY concentration in a weakly sigmoidal fashion (apparent Hill coefficient approximately 2.5). This indicates that the high sensitivity of the chemotaxis system is not derived from highly cooperative interactions between P-CheY and the flagellar motor, but rather depends on nonlinear effects within the chemotaxis signal transduction network. The complex relationship between single flagella rotation and free-swimming behavior was examined; our results indicate that there is an additional level of information processing associated with interactions between the individual flagella. An allosteric model of the motor switching process is proposed which gives a good fit to the observed switching induced by P-CheY. Thus the level of intracellular P-CheY can be estimated from behavior determinations: approximately 30% of the intracellular pool of CheY appears to be phosphorylated in fully adapted wild-type cells.

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