An Unexpected Route to an Essential Cofactor: Escherichia coli Relies on Threonine for Thiamine Biosynthesis

mBio. 2016 Jan 5;7(1):e01840-15. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01840-15.


Metabolism consists of biochemical reactions that are combined to generate a robust metabolic network that can respond to perturbations and also adapt to changing environmental conditions. Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica are closely related enterobacteria that share metabolic components, pathway structures, and regulatory strategies. The synthesis of thiamine in S. enterica has been used to define a node of the metabolic network by analyzing alternative inputs to thiamine synthesis from diverse metabolic pathways. To assess the conservation of metabolic networks in organisms with highly conserved components, metabolic contributions to thiamine synthesis in E. coli were investigated. Unexpectedly, we found that, unlike S. enterica, E. coli does not use the phosphoribosylpyrophosphate (PRPP) amidotransferase (PurF) as the primary enzyme for synthesis of phosphoribosylamine (PRA). In fact, our data showed that up to 50% of the PRA used by E. coli to make thiamine requires the activities of threonine dehydratase (IlvA) and anthranilate synthase component II (TrpD). Significantly, the IlvA- and TrpD-dependent pathway to PRA functions in S. enterica only in the absence of a functional reactive intermediate deaminase (RidA) enzyme, bringing into focus how these closely related bacteria have distinct metabolic networks.

Importance: In most bacteria, including Salmonella strains and Escherichia coli, synthesis of the pyrimidine moiety of the essential coenzyme, thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP), shares enzymes with the purine biosynthetic pathway. Phosphoribosylpyrophosphate amidotransferase, encoded by the purF gene, generates phosphoribosylamine (PRA) and is considered the first enzyme in the biosynthesis of purines and the pyrimidine moiety of TPP. We show here that, unlike Salmonella, E. coli synthesizes significant thiamine from PRA derived from threonine using enzymes from the isoleucine and tryptophan biosynthetic pathways. These data show that two closely related organisms can have distinct metabolic network structures despite having similar enzyme components, thus emphasizing caveats associated with predicting metabolic potential from genome content.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anthranilate Synthase / metabolism
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Nitrogenous Group Transferases / metabolism
  • Ribosemonophosphates / metabolism
  • Salmonella enterica / genetics
  • Salmonella enterica / metabolism
  • Thiamine / biosynthesis*
  • Threonine / metabolism*
  • Threonine Dehydratase / metabolism


  • Ribosemonophosphates
  • phosphoribosylamine
  • Threonine
  • Nitrogenous Group Transferases
  • Anthranilate Synthase
  • anthranilate synthase, glutamine amidotransferase subunit
  • Threonine Dehydratase
  • Thiamine