By Loo Chien Wang, Leslie K Morgan,Pahan Godakumbura, Linda J Kenney*and Ganesh S Anand *
Accepted in EMBO Journal, 2012
Two-component systems mediate bacterial signal transduction, employing a membrane sensor kinase and a cytoplasmic response regulator (RR). Environmental sensing is typically coupled to gene regulation. Understanding how input stimuli activate kinase autophosphorylation remains obscure. The EnvZ/OmpR system regulates expression of outer membrane proteins in response to osmotic stress. To identify EnvZ conformational changes associated with osmosensing, we used HDXMS to probe the effects of osmolytes (NaCl, sucrose) on the cytoplasmic domain of EnvZ (EnvZc). Increasing osmolality decreased deuterium exchange localized to the four-helix bundle containing the autophosphorylation site (His243). EnvZc exists as an ensemble of multiple conformations and osmolytes favoured increased helicity. High osmolality increased autophosphorylation of His243, suggesting that these two events are linked. In-vivo analysis showed that the cytoplasmic domain of EnvZ was sufficient for osmosensing,transmembrane domains were not required. Our results challenge existing claims of robustness in EnvZ/OmpR and support a model where osmolytes promote intrahelical H-bonding enhancing helix stabilization, increasing autophosphorylation and downstream signalling. The model provides a conserved mechanism for signalling proteins that respond to diverse physical and mechanical stimuli.