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Open Access Research article

Molecular basis for the distinct divalent cation requirement in the uridylylation of the signal transduction proteins GlnJ and GlnB from Rhodospirillum rubrum

Pedro Filipe Teixeira, Maria A Dominguez-Martin and Stefan Nordlund*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, SE-106 91, Sweden

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BMC Microbiology 2012, 12:136  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-136

Published: 8 July 2012



PII proteins have a fundamental role in the control of nitrogen metabolism in bacteria, through interactions with different PII targets, controlled by metabolite binding and post-translational modification, uridylylation in most organisms. In the photosynthetic bacterium Rhodospirillum rubrum, the PII proteins GlnB and GlnJ were shown, in spite of their high degree of similarity, to have different requirements for post-translational uridylylation, with respect to the divalent cations, Mg2+ and Mn2+.


Given the importance of uridylylation in the functional interactions of PII proteins, we have hypothesized that the difference in the divalent cation requirement for the uridylylation is related to efficient binding of Mg/Mn-ATP to the PII proteins. We concluded that the amino acids at positions 42 and 85 in GlnJ and GlnB (in the vicinity of the ATP binding site) influence the divalent cation requirement for uridylylation catalyzed by GlnD.


Efficient binding of Mg/Mn-ATP to the PII proteins is required for uridylylation by GlnD. Our results show that by simply exchanging two amino acid residues, we could modulate the divalent cation requirement in the uridylylation of GlnJ and GlnB.

Considering that post-translational uridylylation of PII proteins modulates their signaling properties, a different requirement for divalent cations in the modification of GlnB and GlnJ adds an extra regulatory layer to the already intricate control of PII function.

PII proteins; Post-translational modification; Uridylyltransferase