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Open Access Research article

Glutamate dehydrogenase and glutamine synthetase are regulated in response to nitrogen availability in Myocbacterium smegmatis

Catriona J Harper1*, Don Hayward1, Martin Kidd2, Ian Wiid1 and Paul van Helden1

Author Affiliations

1 DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, Department of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, P.O.Box 19063, Tygerberg, South Africa

2 Centre for Statistical Consultation, Dept of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences University of Stellenbosch Private Bag X1, Matieland, South Africa

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:138  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-138

Published: 11 May 2010



The assimilation of nitrogen is an essential process in all prokaryotes, yet a relatively limited amount of information is available on nitrogen metabolism in the mycobacteria. The physiological role and pathogenic properties of glutamine synthetase (GS) have been extensively investigated in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. However, little is known about this enzyme in other mycobacterial species, or the role of an additional nitrogen assimilatory pathway via glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), in the mycobacteria as a whole. We investigated specific enzyme activity and transcription of GS and as well as both possible isoforms of GDH (NAD+- and NADP+-specific GDH) under varying conditions of nitrogen availability in Mycobacterium smegmatis as a model for the mycobacteria.


It was found that the specific activity of the aminating NADP+-GDH reaction and the deaminating NAD+-GDH reaction did not change appreciably in response to nitrogen availability. However, GS activity as well as the deaminating NADP+-GDH and aminating NAD+-GDH reactions were indeed significantly altered in response to exogenous nitrogen concentrations. Transcription of genes encoding for GS and the GDH isoforms were also found to be regulated under our experimental conditions.


The physiological role and regulation of GS in M. smegmatis was similar to that which has been described for other mycobacteria, however, in our study the regulation of both NADP+- and NAD+-GDH specific activity in M. smegmatis appeared to be different to that of other Actinomycetales. It was found that NAD+-GDH played an important role in nitrogen assimilation rather than glutamate catabolism as was previously thought, and is it's activity appeared to be regulated in response to nitrogen availability. Transcription of the genes encoding for NAD+-GDH enzymes seem to be regulated in M. smegmatis under the conditions tested and may contribute to the changes in enzyme activity observed, however, our results indicate that an additional regulatory mechanism may be involved. NADP+-GDH seemed to be involved in nitrogen assimilation due to a constitutive aminating activity. The deaminating reaction, however was observed to change in response to varying ammonium concentrations which suggests that NADP+-GDH is also regulated in response to nitrogen availability. The regulation of NADP+-GDH activity was not reflected at the level of gene transcription thereby implicating post-transcriptional modification as a regulatory mechanism in response to nitrogen availability.