A nonpyrrolysine member of the widely distributed trimethylamine methyltransferase family is a glycine betaine methyltransferase

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Oct 28;111(43):E4668-76. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1409642111. Epub 2014 Oct 13.


COG5598 comprises a large number of proteins related to MttB, the trimethylamine:corrinoid methyltransferase. MttB has a genetically encoded pyrrolysine residue proposed essential for catalysis. MttB is the only known trimethylamine methyltransferase, yet the great majority of members of COG5598 lack pyrrolysine, leaving the activity of these proteins an open question. Here, we describe the function of one of the nonpyrrolysine members of this large protein family. Three nonpyrrolysine MttB homologs are encoded in Desulfitobacterium hafniense, a Gram-positive strict anaerobe present in both the environment and human intestine. D. hafniense was found capable of growth on glycine betaine with electron acceptors such as nitrate or fumarate, producing dimethylglycine and CO2 as products. Examination of the genome revealed genes for tetrahydrofolate-linked oxidation of a methyl group originating from a methylated corrinoid protein, but no obvious means to carry out corrinoid methylation with glycine betaine. DSY3156, encoding one of the nonpyrrolysine MttB homologs, was up-regulated during growth on glycine betaine. The recombinant DSY3156 protein converts glycine betaine and cob(I)alamin to dimethylglycine and methylcobalamin. To our knowledge, DSY3156 is the first glycine betaine:corrinoid methyltransferase described, and a designation of MtgB is proposed. In addition, DSY3157, an adjacently encoded protein, was shown to be a methylcobalamin:tetrahydrofolate methyltransferase and is designated MtgA. Homologs of MtgB are widely distributed, especially in marine bacterioplankton and nitrogen-fixing plant symbionts. They are also found in multiple members of the human microbiome, and may play a beneficial role in trimethylamine homeostasis, which in recent years has been directly tied to human cardiovascular health.

Keywords: COG5598; Desulfitobacterium hafniense; glycine betaine; l-pyrrolysine; trimethylamine methyltransferase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Betaine / metabolism*
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Desulfitobacterium / genetics
  • Desulfitobacterium / growth & development
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Glycine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Methylamines / metabolism*
  • Methylation
  • Phylogeny
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Methylamines
  • Betaine
  • Glycine N-Methyltransferase
  • pyrrolysine
  • Lysine
  • trimethylamine