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Open Access Open Badges Research article

MtnK, methylthioribose kinase, is a starvation-induced protein in Bacillus subtilis

Agnieszka Sekowska1*, Laurence Mulard2, Susanne Krogh3, Jane KS Tse1 and Antoine Danchin14

Author Affiliations

1 HKU-Pasteur Research Centre, Dexter HC Man Building, Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China

2 Chimie Organique, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du Docteur Roux, Paris, 75724, France

3 Department of Genetics, Smurfit Institute, Trinity College, Dublin, 2, Ireland

4 Génétique des Génomes Bactériens, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du Docteur Roux, Paris, 75724, France

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BMC Microbiology 2001, 1:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-1-15

Published: 8 August 2001



Methylthioadenosine, the main by-product of spermidine synthesis, is degraded in Bacillus subtilis as adenine and methylthioribose. The latter is an excellent sulfur source and the precursor of quorum-sensing signalling molecules. Nothing was known about methylthioribose recycling in this organism.


Using trifluoromethylthioribose as a toxic analog to select for resistant mutants, we demonstrate that methylthioribose is first phosphorylated by MtnK, methylthioribose kinase, the product of gene mtnK (formerly ykrT), expressed as an operon with mtnS (formerly ykrS) in an abundant transcript with a S-box leader sequence. Although participating in methylthioribose recycling, the function of mtnS remained elusive. We also show that MtnK synthesis is boosted under starvation condition, in the following decreasing order: carbon-, sulfur- and nitrogen-starvation. We finally show that this enzyme is part of the family Pfam 01633 (choline kinases) which belongs to a large cluster of orthologs comprizing antibiotic aminoglycoside kinases and protein serine/threonine kinases.


The first step of methylthioribose recycling is phosphoryltaion by MTR kinase, coded by the mtnK (formerly ykrT) gene. Analysis of the neighbourhood of mtnK demonstrates that genes located in its immediate vicinity (now named mtnUVWXYZ, formerly ykrUVWXYZ) are also required for methylthioribose recycling.