The McpS chemoreceptor of Pseudomonas putida KT2440 recognizes six different tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle intermediates. However, the magnitude of the chemotactic response towards these compounds differs largely, which has led to distinguish between strong attractants (malate, succinate, fumarate, oxaloacetate) and weak attractants (citrate, isocitrate). Citrate is abundantly present in plant tissues and root exudates and can serve as the only carbon source for growth. Citrate is known to form complexes with divalent cations which are also abundantly present in natural habitats of this bacterium. We have used isothermal titration calorimetry to study the formation of citrate-metal ion complexes. In all cases binding was entropy driven but significant differences in affinity were observed ranging from K(D)=157 µM (for Mg(2+)) to 3 µM (for Ni(2+)). Complex formation occurred over a range of pH and ionic strength. The ligand binding domain of McpS (McpS-LBD) was found to bind free citrate, but not complexes with physiologically relevant Mg(2+) and Ca(2+). In contrast, complexes with divalent cations which are present as trace elements (Co(2+), Cd(2+) and Ni(2+)) were recognized by McpS-LBD. This discrimination differs from other citrate sensing proteins. These results are discussed in the context of the three dimensional structure of free citrate and its complex with Mg(2+). Chemotaxis assays using P. putida revealed that taxis towards the strong attractant malate is strongly reduced in the presence of free citrate. However, this reduction is much less important in the presence of citrate-Mg(2+) complexes. The physiological relevance of these findings is discussed.
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