Mapping essential domains of Mycobacterium smegmatis WhmD: insights into WhiB structure and function

J Bacteriol. 2006 Oct;188(19):6966-76. doi: 10.1128/JB.00384-06.


A growing body of evidence suggests that the WhiB-like proteins exclusive to the GC-rich actinomycete genera play significant roles in pathogenesis and cell division. Each of these proteins contains four invariant cysteine residues and a conserved helix-turn-helix motif. whmD, the Mycobacterium smegmatis homologue of Streptomyces coelicolor whiB, is essential in M. smegmatis, and the conditionally complemented mutant M. smegmatis 628-53 undergoes filamentation under nonpermissive conditions. To identify residues critical to WhmD function, we developed a cotransformation-based assay to screen for alleles that complement the filamentation phenotype of M. smegmatis 628-53 following inducer withdrawal. Mycobacterium tuberculosis whiB2 and S. coelicolor whiB complemented the defect in M. smegmatis 628-53, indicating that these genes are true functional orthologues of whmD. Deletion analysis suggested that the N-terminal 67 and C-terminal 12 amino acid residues are dispensable for activity. Site-directed mutagenesis indicated that three of the four conserved cysteine residues (C90, C93, and C99) and a conserved aspartate (D71) are essential. Mutations in a predicted loop glycine (G111) and an unstructured leucine (L116) were poorly tolerated. The region essential for WhmD activity encompasses 6 of the 10 residues conserved in all seven M. tuberculosis WhiBs, as well as in most members of the WhiB family identified thus far. WhmD structure was found to be sensitive to the presence of a reducing agent, suggesting that the cysteine residues are involved in coordinating a metal ion. Iron-specific staining strongly suggested that WhmD contains a bound iron atom. With this information, we have now begun to comprehend the functional significance of the conserved sequence and structural elements in this novel family of proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Base Sequence
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Conserved Sequence / physiology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / cytology
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / genetics*
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / physiology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Reducing Agents / pharmacology
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Streptomyces coelicolor / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Reducing Agents
  • Transcription Factors
  • WhmD protein, Mycobacterium smegmatis
  • whiB protein, Streptomyces
  • Iron