HAMP domains play key signaling roles in many bacterial receptor proteins. The four-helix HAMP bundle of the homodimeric Escherichia coli serine chemoreceptor (Tsr) interacts with an adjoining four-helix sensory adaptation bundle to regulate the histidine autokinase CheA bound to the cytoplasmic tip of the Tsr molecule. The adaptation helices undergo reversible covalent modifications that tune the stimulus-responsive range of the receptor: unmodified E residues promote kinase-off output, and methylated E residues or Q replacements at modification sites promote kinase-on output. We used mutationally imposed adaptational modification states and cells with various combinations of the sensory adaptation enzymes, CheR and CheB, to characterize the signaling properties of mutant Tsr receptors that had amino acid replacements in packing layer 3 of the HAMP bundle and followed in vivo CheA activity with an assay based on Förster resonance energy transfer. We found that an alanine or a serine replacement at HAMP residue I229 effectively locked Tsr output in a kinase-on state, abrogating chemotactic responses. A second amino acid replacement in the same HAMP packing layer alleviated the I229A and I229S signaling defects. Receptors with the suppressor changes alone mediated chemotaxis in adaptation-proficient cells but exhibited altered sensitivity to serine stimuli. Two of the suppressors (S255E and S255A) shifted Tsr output toward the kinase-off state, but two others (S255G and L256F) shifted output toward a kinase-on state. The alleviation of locked-on defects by on-shifted suppressors implies that Tsr-HAMP has several conformationally distinct kinase-active output states and that HAMP signaling might involve dynamic shifts over a range of bundle conformations.
Keywords: chemotaxis; sensory adaptation; transmembrane signaling.
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