Isolation and characterization of hypophosphite--resistant mutants of Escherichia coli: identification of the FocA protein, encoded by the pfl operon, as a putative formate transporter

Mol Microbiol. 1994 Mar;11(5):965-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1994.tb00375.x.


Hypophosphite was used as a toxic analogue to identify genes whose products have a putative function in the transport of formate. Two Tn10-derived insertion mutants were identified that exhibited increased resistance to high concentrations of hypophosphite in the culture medium. The transposon was located in the identical position in the focA (formate channel; previously termed orf) gene of the pfl operon in both mutants. A defined chromosomal focA nonsense mutant, which showed minimal polarity effects on pfl gene expression, had the same phenotype as the insertion mutants. Results obtained using a hycA-lacZ fusion to monitor changes in the intracellular formate concentration in a focA mutant indicated that the level of formate inside the cell was elevated compared with the wild type. Moreover, it could be shown that there was a corresponding reduction of approximately 50% in the amount of formate excreted by a focA mutant into the culture medium. Taken together, these results indicate that formate accumulates in anaerobic cells which do not have a functional focA gene product and that one function of FocA may be to export formate from the cell. A further significant result was that hypophosphite could substitute for formate in activating hycA gene expression. This hypophosphite-dependent activation of hycA gene expression was reduced 10-fold in a focA null mutant, suggesting that hypophosphite must first enter the cell before it can act as a signal to activate hycA expression. By analogy, these data suggest that focA may also be functional in the import of formate into anaerobic Escherichia coli cells. Site-specific mutagenesis identified the translation initiation codon of focA as a GUG. Therefore, the FocA polypeptide has a molecular weight of 30,958. FocA shows significant similarity at both the primary and secondary structural levels with the NirC protein of E. coli and the FdhC protein of Methanobacterium formicicum. All three proteins are predicted to be integral membrane proteins. A detailed in vivo TnphoA mutagenesis study predicted that FocA has six membrane-spanning segments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Anion Transport Proteins*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Carrier Proteins / chemistry
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics*
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Consensus Sequence
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Formates / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Transport Proteins*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Operon*
  • Phosphinic Acids / metabolism
  • Phosphinic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Anion Transport Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • FocA protein, E coli
  • Formates
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • NirC protein, Bacteria
  • NirC protein, E coli
  • Phosphinic Acids
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • fdhC protein, Methanobacterium formicicum
  • formic acid
  • sodium hypophosphite
  • Acetyltransferases
  • formate C-acetyltransferase