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J Biol Chem. 1999 Feb 12;274(7):4281-92.

Export of recombinant Mycobacterium tuberculosis superoxide dismutase is dependent upon both information in the protein and mycobacterial export machinery. A model for studying export of leaderless proteins by pathogenic mycobacteria.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095-1688, USA.


We have investigated the expression and extracellular release of enzymatically active superoxide dismutase, one of the 10 major extracellular proteins of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, both in its native host and in the heterologous host Mycobacterium smegmatis. We found that the M. tuberculosis superoxide dismutase gene, encoding a leaderless polypeptide of Mr approximately 23,000 representing one of the four identical subunits of the enzyme, is expressed constitutively under normal growth conditions and at a 5-fold increased level under conditions of hydrogen peroxide stress. The highly pathogenic mycobacterium M. tuberculosis expresses 93-fold more superoxide dismutase than the nonpathogenic mycobacterium M. smegmatis, and it exports a much higher proportion of expressed enzyme (76 versus 21%); taking both expression and export into consideration, M. tuberculosis exports approximately 350-fold more enzyme than M. smegmatis. In M. smegmatis, recombinant M. tuberculosis superoxide dismutase is expressed at 8.4 times the level of the endogenous enzyme and the proportion exported (66%) approaches that in the homologous host; hence M. smegmatis exports up to 26-fold more of the recombinant than endogenous enzyme. Interestingly, subunits of the M. tuberculosis and M. smegmatis enzymes readily and stoichiometrically exchange with each other, forming five different complexes of four subunits, both when the enzymes are expressed in the recombinant host and when the purified enzymes are incubated together; however, each subunit retains its characteristic metal ion, iron for M. tuberculosis and manganese for M. smegmatis. Compared with the cell-associated enzyme, the supernatant enzyme of recombinant M. smegmatis is enriched for M. tuberculosis enzyme subunits, consistent with preferential export of the M. tuberculosis enzyme. Recombinant M. tuberculosis superoxide dismutase transcomplements a superoxide dismutase-deficient Escherichia coli, resulting in a reduction of sensitivity of the strain to oxidative stress, but the enzyme is not exported from this nonmycobacterial host. Our findings indicate that the information for export of the M. tuberculosis superoxide dismutase is contained within the protein but that export additionally requires export machinery specific to mycobacteria.

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