Selective synthesis and labeling of the polysialic acid capsule in Escherichia coli K1 strains with mutations in nanA and neuB

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The enzymes required for polysialic acid capsule synthesis in Escherichia coli K1 are encoded by region 2 neu genes of the multigenic kps cluster. To facilitate analysis of capsule synthesis and translocation, an E. coli K1 strain with mutations in nanA and neuB, affecting sialic acid degradation and synthesis, respectively, was constructed by transduction. The acapsular phenotype of the mutant was corrected in vivo by exogenous addition of sialic acid. By blocking sialic acid degradation, the nanA mutation allows intracellular metabolite accumulation, while the neuB mutation prevents dilution by the endogenous sialic acid pool and allows capsule synthesis to be controlled experimentally by the exogenous addition of sialic acid to the growth medium. Complementation was detected by bacteriophage K1F adsorption or infectivity assays. Polysialic acid translocation was observed within 2 min after addition of sialic acid to the growth medium, demonstrating the rapidity in vivo of sialic acid transport, activation, and polymerization and translocation of polysaccharide to the cell surface. Phage adsorption was not inhibited by chloramphenicol, demonstrating that de novo protein synthesis was not required for polysialic acid synthesis or translocation at 37°C. Exogenous radiolabeled sialic acid was incorporated exclusively into capsular polysaccharide. The polymeric nature of the labeled capsular material was confirmed by gel permeation chromatography and susceptibility of sialyl polymers to K1F endo-N-acylneuraminidase. The ability to experimentally manipulate capsule expression provides new approaches for investigating polysialic acid synthesis and membrane translocation mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6191-6197
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number19
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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