C-terminal Poly-histidine Tags Alter Escherichia coli Polyphosphate Kinase Activity and Susceptibility to Inhibition

J Mol Biol. 2024 Jun 10;436(16):168651. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2024.168651. Online ahead of print.


In Escherichia coli, many environmental stressors trigger polyphosphate (polyP) synthesis by polyphosphate kinase (PPK1), including heat, nutrient restriction, toxic compounds, and osmotic imbalances. PPK1 is essential for virulence in many pathogens and has been the target of multiple screens for small molecule inhibitors that might serve as new anti-virulence drugs. However, the mechanisms by which PPK1 activity and polyP synthesis are regulated are poorly understood. Our previous attempts to uncover PPK1 regulatory elements resulted in the discovery of PPK1* mutants, which accumulate more polyP in vivo, but do not produce more in vitro. In attempting to further characterize these mutant enzymes, we discovered that the most commonly-used PPK1 purification method - Ni-affinity chromatography using a C-terminal poly-histidine tag - altered intrinsic aspects of the PPK1 enzyme, including specific activity, oligomeric state, and kinetic values. We developed an alternative purification strategy using a C-terminal C-tag which did not have these effects. Using this strategy, we were able to demonstrate major differences in the in vitro response of PPK1 to 5-aminosalicylic acid, a known PPK1 inhibitor, and observed several key differences between the wild-type and PPK1* enzymes, including changes in oligomeric distribution, increased enzymatic activity, and increased resistance to both product (ADP) and substrate (ATP) inhibition, that help to explain their in vivo effects. Importantly, our results indicate that the C-terminal poly-histidine tag is inappropriate for purification of PPK1, and that any in vitro studies or inhibitor screens performed with such tags need to be reconsidered in that light.

Keywords: affinity chromatography; enzymatic inhibitors; enzyme activity; enzyme purification; stress response.