A 13C-NMR study of the mechanism of bacterial metabolism of monomethyl sulfate

Eur J Biochem. 1996 Mar 1;236(2):620-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-1033.1996.00620.x.


Two different mechanisms have been proposed previously for initiating the biodegradation of monomethyl sulfate (MeSO4) in bacteria. For a Hyphomicrobium species, a sulfatase enzyme has been proposed to hydrolyse MeSO4 to methanol and inorganic sulfate. For an Agrobacterium sp., an alternative proposal involves monooxygenation of MeSO4 (hydroxylation) to produce methanediol monosulfate, which decomposes spontaneously to formaldehyde and inorganic sulfate. In the present study, 13C-NMR was used to monitor metabolic intermediates of [13C]MeSO4 in real time in each species in order to resolve the issue of mechanism of biodegradation. Agrobacterium sp. M3C grew on MeSO4 but not on methanol. MeSO4-grown cells catabolised [13C]MeSO4 but not [13C]methanol, and [13C]methanol did not accumulate from MeSO4 in the presence of a known inhibitor of methanol dehydrogenase (cyclopropanol). Hyphomicrobium MS223 grew on MeSO4 and, in contrast with the Agrobacterium sp., also on methanol. The normally rapid metabolism of [13C]methanol by methanol-grown cells was arrested by cyclopropanol, but metabolism of [13C]MeSO4 by MeSO4-grown cells was unaffected. Moreover there was no accumulation of [13C]methanol from [13C]MeSO4 under conditions in which methanol dehydrogenase was shown to be inactive. The results provided strong evidence against the intermediacy of methanol in the biodegradation of MeSO4 in either species, and thereby render untenable mechanisms involving sulfatase-mediated hydrolysis of MeSO4. The data are consistent with the hydroxylation of MeSO4 via a monooxygenation mechanism and subsequent spontaneous hydrolysis of the methanediol monosulfate intermediate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Ethers, Cyclic / pharmacology
  • Formaldehyde / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Rhizobium / metabolism
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters / metabolism*
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Ethers, Cyclic
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters
  • cyclopropanol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases
  • alcohol dehydrogenase (acceptor)
  • Tetracycline
  • methyl sulfate