Contrasting sensitivities of Escherichia coli aconitases A and B to oxidation and iron depletion

Shery Varghese, Yue Tang, James A. Imlay

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Superoxide damages dehydratases that contain catalytic [4Fe-4S]2+ clusters. Aconitases are members of that enzyme family, and previous work showed that most aconitase activity is lost when Escherichia coli is exposed to superoxide stress. More recently it was determined that E. coli synthesizes at least two isozymes of aconitase, AcnA and AcnB. Synthesis of AcnA, the less-abundant enzyme, is positively controlled by SoxS, a protein that is activated in the presence of superoxide-generating chemicals. We have determined that this arrangement exists because AcnA is resistant to superoxide in vivo. Surprisingly, purified AcnA is extremely sensitive to superoxide and other chemical oxidants unless it is combined with an uncharacterized factor that is present in cell extracts. In contrast, AcnB is highly sensitive to a variety of chemical oxidants in vivo, in extracts, and in its purified form. Thus, the induction of AcnA during oxidative stress provides a mechanism to circumvent a block in the tricarboxylic acid cycle. AcnA appears to be as catalytically competent as AcnB, so the retention of the latter as the primary housekeeping enzyme must provide some other advantage. We observed that the [4Fe-4S] cluster of AcnB is in dynamic equilibrium with the surrounding iron pool, so that AcnB is rapidly demetallated when intracellular iron pools drop. AcnA and other dehydratases do not show this trait. Demetallated AcnB is known to bind its cognate mRNA. The absence of AcnB activity also causes the accumulation and excretion of citrate, an iron chelator for which E. coli synthesizes a transport system. Thus, AcnB may be retained as the primary aconitase because the lability of its exposed cluster allows E. coli to sense and respond to iron depletion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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