Enzymology and bioenergetics of respiratory nitrite ammonification

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2002 Aug;26(3):285-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2002.tb00616.x.


Nitrite is widely used by bacteria as an electron acceptor under anaerobic conditions. In respiratory nitrite ammonification an electrochemical proton potential across the membrane is generated by electron transport from a non-fermentable substrate like formate or H(2) to nitrite. The corresponding electron transport chain minimally comprises formate dehydrogenase or hydrogenase, a respiratory quinone and cytochrome c nitrite reductase. The catalytic subunit of the latter enzyme (NrfA) catalyzes nitrite reduction to ammonia without liberating intermediate products. This review focuses on recent progress that has been made in understanding the enzymology and bioenergetics of respiratory nitrite ammonification. High-resolution structures of NrfA proteins from different bacteria have been determined, and many nrf operons sequenced, leading to the prediction of electron transfer pathways from the quinone pool to NrfA. Furthermore, the coupled electron transport chain from formate to nitrite of Wolinella succinogenes has been reconstituted by incorporating the purified enzymes into liposomes. The NrfH protein of W. succinogenes, a tetraheme c-type cytochrome of the NapC/NirT family, forms a stable complex with NrfA in the membrane and serves in passing electrons from menaquinol to NrfA. Proteins similar to NrfH are predicted by open reading frames of several bacterial nrf gene clusters. In gamma-proteobacteria, however, NrfH is thought to be replaced by the nrfBCD gene products. The active site heme c group of NrfA proteins from different bacteria is covalently bound via the cysteine residues of a unique CXXCK motif. The lysine residue of this motif serves as an axial ligand to the heme iron thus replacing the conventional histidine residue. The attachment of the lysine-ligated heme group requires specialized proteins in W. succinogenes and Escherichia coli that are encoded by accessory nrf genes. The proteins predicted by these genes are unrelated in the two bacteria but similar to proteins of the respective conventional cytochrome c biogenesis systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / enzymology*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Cytochrome c Group / genetics
  • Cytochrome c Group / metabolism
  • Cytochromes a1*
  • Cytochromes c1*
  • Multigene Family
  • Nitrate Reductases / chemistry*
  • Nitrate Reductases / genetics
  • Nitrate Reductases / metabolism*
  • Nitrites / metabolism*
  • Proteobacteria / enzymology
  • Proteobacteria / growth & development
  • Proteobacteria / metabolism
  • Wolinella / enzymology
  • Wolinella / genetics
  • Wolinella / growth & development
  • Wolinella / metabolism*


  • Cytochrome c Group
  • Nitrites
  • Cytochromes a1
  • Cytochromes c1
  • Nitrate Reductases
  • nitrate reductase (cytochrome)