All Escherichia coli strains so far examined possess a chromosomally encoded nanATEK-yhcH operon for the catabolism of sialic acids. These unique nine-carbon sugars are synthesized primarily by higher eukaryotes and can be used as carbon, nitrogen, and energy sources by a variety of microbial pathogens or commensals. The gene nanR, located immediately upstream of the operon, encodes a protein of the FadR/GntR family that represses nan expression in trans. S1 analysis identified the nan transcriptional start, and DNA footprint analysis showed that NanR binds to a region of ∼30 bp covering the promoter region. Native (nondenaturing) polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, mass spectrometry, and chemical cross-linking indicated that NanR forms homodimers in solution. The region protected by NanR contains three tandem repeats of the hexameric sequence GGTATA. Gel shift analysis with purified hexahistidine-tagged or native NanR detected three retarded complexes, suggesting that NanR binds sequentially to the three repeats. Artificial operators carrying different numbers of repeats formed the corresponding number of complexes. Among the sugars tested that were predicted to be products of the nan-encoded system, only the exogenous addition of sialic acid resulted in the dramatic induction of a chromosomal nanA-lacZ fusion or displaced NanR from its operator in vitro. Titration of NanR by the nan promoter region or artificial operators carrying different numbers of the GGTATA repeat on plasmids in this fusion strain supported the binding of the regulator to target DNA in vivo. Together, the results indicate that GGTATA is important for NanR binding, but the precise mechanism remains to be determined.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology