In Halobacterium salinarum phototaxis is mediated by the visual pigment-like photoreceptors sensory rhodopsin I (SRI) and II (SRII). SRI is a receptor for attractant orange and repellent UV-blue light, and SRII is a receptor for repellent blue-green light, and transmit signals through the membrane-bound transducer proteins Htrl and HtrII respectively.
The primary sequences of HtrI and HtrII predict 2 transmembrane helices (TM1 and TM2) followed by a hydrophilic cytoplasmic domain. HtrII shows an additional large periplasmic domain for chemotactic ligand binding. The cytoplasmic regions are homologous to the adaptation and signaling domains of eubacterial chemotaxis receptors and, like their eubacterial homologs, modulate the transfer of phosphate groups from the histidine protein kinase CheA to the response regulator CheY that in turn controls flagellar motor rotation and the cell’s swimming behavior. HtrII and HtrI are dimeric proteins which were predicted to contain carboxylmethylation sites in a 4-helix bundle in their cytoplasmic regions, like eubacterial chemotaxis receptors.
The phototaxis transducers of H. salinarum have provided a model for studying receptor/transducer interaction, adaptation in sensory systems, and the role of membrane molecular complexes in signal transduction.
Interaction between the transducer HtrI and the photoreceptor SRI was explored by creating six deletion constructs of HtrI with progressively shorter cytoplasmic domains. This study confirmed a putative chaperone-like function of HtrI, facilitating membrane insertion or stability of the SRI protein, a phenomenon previously observed in the laboratory, and identified the smallest HtrI, fragment containing Interaction sites for both the chaperone-like function and SRI photocycle control. The active fragment consisted of the N-terminal 147 residues of the 536-residue HtrI protein, a portion of the molecule predicted to contain the two transmembrane helices and the first ~20% of the cytoplasmic portion of the protein.
Phototaxis and chemotaxis sensory systems adapt to stimuli, thereby signaling only in response to changes in environmental conditions. Observations made in our and in other laboratories and homologies between the halobacterial transducers with the chemoreceptors of enteric bacteria anticipated a role for methylation in adaptation to chemo- and photostimuli. By site directed mutagenesis we identified the methylation sites to be the glutamate pairs E265-E266 in HtrI and E513-E514 in HtrII. Cells containing the unmethylatable transducers are still able to perform phototaxis and adapt to light stimuli. By pulse-chase analysis we found that methanol production from carboxylmethyl group hydrolysis occurs upon specific photostimulation of unmethylatable HtrI and HtrII and is due to turnover of methyl groups on other transducers. We demonstrated that the turnover in wild-type H. salinarum cells that follows a positive stimulus is CheY-dependent. The CheY-feedback pathway does not require the stimulated transducer to be methylatable and operates globally on other transducers present in the cell.
Assembly of signaling molecules into architecturally defined complexes is considered essential in transmission of the signals. The spectroscopic characteristics of SRI were exploited to study the stoichiometric composition in the phototaxis complex SRI-HtrI. A molar ratio of 2.1 HtrI: 1 SRI was obtained, suggesting that only 1 SRI, binding site is occupied on the HtrI homodimer. We used gold-immunoelectron microscopy and light fluorescence microscopy to investigate the structural organization and the distribution of other halobacterial transducers. We observed clusters of transducers, usually near the cell’s poles, providing an ultrastructural basis for the global effects and intertransducer communication we observe.
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Role of Transducer Proteins in Phototaxis Signaling of Halobacterium salinarum