The heme-based oxygen sensor histidine kinase AfGcHK is part of a two-component signal transduction system in bacteria. O2 binding to the Fe(II) heme complex of its N-terminal globin domain strongly stimulates autophosphorylation at His183 in its C-terminal kinase domain. The 6-coordinate heme Fe(III)-OH- and -CN- complexes of AfGcHK are also active, but the 5-coordinate heme Fe(II) complex and the heme-free apo-form are inactive. Here, we determined the crystal structures of the isolated dimeric globin domains of the active Fe(III)-CN- and inactive 5-coordinate Fe(II) forms, revealing striking structural differences on the heme-proximal side of the globin domain. Using hydrogen/deuterium exchange coupled with mass spectrometry to characterize the conformations of the active and inactive forms of full-length AfGcHK in solution, we investigated the intramolecular signal transduction mechanisms. Major differences between the active and inactive forms were observed on the heme-proximal side (helix H5), at the dimerization interface (helices H6 and H7 and loop L7) of the globin domain and in the ATP-binding site (helices H9 and H11) of the kinase domain. Moreover, separation of the sensor and kinase domains, which deactivates catalysis, increased the solvent exposure of the globin domain-dimerization interface (helix H6) as well as the flexibility and solvent exposure of helix H11. Together, these results suggest that structural changes at the heme-proximal side, the globin domain-dimerization interface, and the ATP-binding site are important in the signal transduction mechanism of AfGcHK. We conclude that AfGcHK functions as an ensemble of molecules sampling at least two conformational states.
Keywords: bacterial protein kinase; crystal structure; globin; heme-containing oxygen sensor; histidine kinase; hydrogen-deuterium exchange; signal transduction; two component signal transduction system.
© 2017 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.