Transcription induction of the ferric citrate transport genes via the N-terminus of the FecA outer membrane protein, the Ton system and the electrochemical potential of the cytoplasmic membrane

Mol Microbiol. 1997 Jan;23(2):333-44. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.1997.2401593.x.


Ferric citrate induces transcription of the ferric citrate transport genes fecABCDE without entering the cells of Escherichia coli K-12. Point mutants of the outer membrane-receptor protein FecA are affected in induction independent of the FecA transport activity, suggesting that FecA is directly involved in induction. Alignment of FecA with the other ferric siderophore receptors of E. coli reveals an N-terminal extension in FecA that is not found in the receptors whose synthesis is not induced by their cognate ferric siderophores. In this study, we show that excision of the N-terminal region abolished the inducing activity of FecA, but retained its transport activity. Overproduction of the N-terminal FecA fragment inhibited FecA-dependent induction, but not transport. Constitutive expression caused by C-terminally truncated FecR derivatives was not inhibited by the N-terminal FecA fragment. The N-terminal region of FecA was localized in the periplasm, which indicates that FecA probably interacts with FecR, which is involved in signal transduction across the cytoplasmic membrane. Transcription initiation of the fec transport genes required the Ton system, consisting of TonB, ExbB, and ExbD, and was inhibited by carbonylcyanide-m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP) and 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), which dissipate the electrochemical potential of the cytoplasmic membrane. fec transcription of mutant fecA4, which displays constitutive fec transcription in the absence of TonB, was not affected by CCCP. The data support a model that proposes initiation of fec transport gene transcription by binding of ferric citrate to FecA. The transcription initiation signal is transferred across the outer membrane through the activity of the Ton system at the expense of the electrochemical potential of the cytoplasmic membrane. The N-terminus of FecA interacts in the periplasm with the C-terminus of FecR, through which the signal is transferred across the cytoplasmic membrane into the cytoplasm, where it increases the activity of the sigma factor Fecl, which then directs the RNA polymerase to the fec promoter upstream of fecA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Ferric Compounds / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • FecA protein, E coli
  • Ferric Compounds
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • ferric citrate