Bacterial chemosensory signal transduction systems that regulate motility by type IV pili (T4P) can be markedly more complex than related flagellum-based chemotaxis systems. In T4P-based systems, the CheA kinase often contains numerous potential sites of phosphorylation, but the signaling mechanisms of these systems are unknown. In Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the Pil-Chp system regulates T4P-mediated twitching motility and cAMP levels, both of which play roles in pathogenesis. The Pil-Chp histidine kinase (ChpA) has eight "Xpt" domains; six are canonical histidine-containing phosphotransfer (Hpt) domains and two have a threonine (Tpt) or serine (Spt) in place of the histidine. Additionally, there are two stand-alone receiver domains (PilG and PilH) and a ChpA C-terminal receiver domain (ChpArec). Here, we demonstrate that the ChpA Xpts are functionally divided into three categories as follows: (i) those phosphorylated with ATP (Hpt4-6); (ii) those reversibly phosphorylated by ChpArec (Hpt2-6), and (iii) those with no detectable phosphorylation (Hpt1, Spt, and Tpt). There was rapid phosphotransfer from Hpt2-6 to ChpArec and from Hpt3 to PilH, whereas transfer to PilG was slower. ChpArec also had a rapid rate of autodephosphorylation. The biochemical results together with in vivo cAMP and twitching phenotypes of key ChpA phosphorylation site point mutants supported a scheme whereby ChpArec functions both as a phosphate sink and a phosphotransfer element linking Hpt4-6 to Hpt2-3. Hpt2 and Hpt3 are likely the dominant sources of phosphoryl groups for PilG and PilH, respectively. The data are synthesized in a signaling circuit that contains fundamental features of two-component phosphorelays.
Keywords: Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa); bacterial signal transduction; chemotaxis; histidine kinase; phosphoryl transfer; type IV pili.
© 2016 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.