Comparing Galactan Biosynthesis in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Corynebacterium diphtheriae

J Biol Chem. 2017 Feb 17;292(7):2944-2955. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.759340. Epub 2016 Dec 30.


The suborder Corynebacterineae encompasses species like Corynebacterium glutamicum, which has been harnessed for industrial production of amino acids, as well as Corynebacterium diphtheriae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which cause devastating human diseases. A distinctive component of the Corynebacterineae cell envelope is the mycolyl-arabinogalactan (mAG) complex. The mAG is composed of lipid mycolic acids, and arabinofuranose (Araf) and galactofuranose (Galf) carbohydrate residues. Elucidating microbe-specific differences in mAG composition could advance biotechnological applications and lead to new antimicrobial targets. To this end, we compare and contrast galactan biosynthesis in C. diphtheriae and M. tuberculosis In each species, the galactan is constructed from uridine 5'-diphosphate-α-d-galactofuranose (UDP-Galf), which is generated by the enzyme UDP-galactopyranose mutase (UGM or Glf). UGM and the galactan are essential in M. tuberculosis, but their importance in Corynebacterium species was not known. We show that small molecule inhibitors of UGM impede C. glutamicum growth, suggesting that the galactan is critical in corynebacteria. Previous cell wall analysis data suggest the galactan polymer is longer in mycobacterial species than corynebacterial species. To explore the source of galactan length variation, a C. diphtheriae ortholog of the M. tuberculosis carbohydrate polymerase responsible for the bulk of galactan polymerization, GlfT2, was produced, and its catalytic activity was evaluated. The C. diphtheriae GlfT2 gave rise to shorter polysaccharides than those obtained with the M. tuberculosis GlfT2. These data suggest that GlfT2 alone can influence galactan length. Our results provide tools, both small molecule and genetic, for probing and perturbing the assembly of the Corynebacterineae cell envelope.

Keywords: cell wall; enzyme catalysis; galactofuranose; glycobiology; glycosyltransferase; mycobacteria.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / enzymology
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / growth & development
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / metabolism*
  • Galactans / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Galactans / biosynthesis*
  • Galactans / metabolism
  • Intramolecular Transferases / metabolism
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / enzymology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / metabolism*
  • O Antigens / chemistry
  • Polymerization


  • Galactans
  • O Antigens
  • Intramolecular Transferases
  • UDP-galactopyranose mutase