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Background: The metabolism of the rigid bacterial cell wall heteropolymer peptidoglycan is a dynamic process requiring continuous biosynthesis and maintenance involving the coordination of both lytic and synthetic enzymes. The O-acetylation of peptidoglycan has been proposed to provide one level of control on these activities as this modification inhibits the action of the major endogenous lytic enzymes, the lytic transglycosylases. The O-acetylation of peptidoglycan also inhibits the activity of the lysozymes which serve as the first line of defense of host cells against the invasion of bacterial pathogens. Despite this central importance, there is a dearth of information regarding peptidoglycan O-acetylation and nothing has previously been reported on its de-acetylation.

Results: Homology searches of the genome databases have permitted this first report on the identification of a potential family of O-Acetylpeptidoglycan esterases (Ape). These proteins encoded in the genomes of a variety of both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including a number of important human pathogens such as species of Neisseria, Helicobacter, Campylobacter, and Bacillus anthracis, have been organized into three families based on amino acid sequence similarities with family 1 being further divided into three sub-families. The genes encoding these proteins are shown to be clustered with Peptidoglycan O-acetyltransferases (Pat) and in some cases, together with other genes involved in cell wall metabolism. Representative bacteria that encode the Ape proteins were experimentally shown to produce O-acetylated peptidoglycan.

Conclusion: The hypothetical proteins encoded by the pat and ape genes have been organized into families based on sequence similarities. The Pat proteins have sequence similarity to Pseudomonas aeruginosa AlgI, an integral membrane protein known to participate in the O-acetylation of the exopolysaccaride, alginate. As none of the bacteria that harbor the pat genes produce alginate, we propose that the Pat proteins serve to O-acetylate peptidoglycan which is known to be a maturation event occurring in the periplasm. The Ape sequences have amino acid sequence similarity to the CAZy CE 3 carbohydrate esterases, a family previously known to be composed of only O-acetylxylan esterases. They are predicted to contain the α/β hydrolase fold associated with the GDSL and TesA hydrolases and they possess the signature motifs associated with the catalytic residues of the CE3 esterases. Specific signature sequence motifs were identified for the Ape proteins which led to their organization into distinct families. We propose that by expressing both Pat and Ape enzymes, bacteria would be able to obtain a high level of localized control over the degradation of peptidoglycan through the attachment and removal of O-linked acetate. This would facilitate the efficient insertion of pores and flagella, localize spore formation, and control the level of general peptidoglycan turnover.


This article was originally published in BMC Microbiology, 5(49): article 14712180549. © 2005 The Authors