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A radical-chemical route to acetyl-CoA: the anaerobically induced pyruvate formate-lyase system of Escherichia coli

Joachim Knappe, Gary Sawers
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-6968.1990.tb04108.x 383-398 First published online: 1 August 1990


Anaerobically growing Escherichia coli cells contain the enzyme pyruvate formate-lyase which catalyses the non-oxidative cleavage of pyruvate to acetyl-CaA and formate. The enzyme is subject to interconversion between inactive and active forms. The active form contains an oxygen-sensitive organic free radical located on the polypeptide chain which is essential for catalysis. It affords a novel homolytic C-C bond cleavage of the pyruvate substrate. The radical is generated by an iron-dependent converter enzyme which requires reduced flavodoxin and adenosyl methionine as co-substrates and pyruvate as a positive allosteric effector. A second converter enzyme, also iron-dependent, accomplishes the removal of the radical. This post-translational interconversion cycle controls the activity state of pyruvate formate-lyase in the anaerotic cell. Anaerobic conditions also regulate pyruvate formate-lyase at the level of gene expression. Multiple promoters are responsible for effecting a twelve to fifteen fold induction and they are coordinately controlled in response to the oxygen and metabolic status of the cell by sequences which are located far upstream of the pfl coding region. The transcription factor Fnr has been identified as being responsible for part of the anaerobic control of pfl expression, probably through direct interaction with the upstream sequences. In contrast, the expression of the gene encoding the first iron-dependent converter enzyme is unaffected by anaerobiosis and is independent of the Fnr protein.

Key words
  • Protein radical
  • Enzyme interconversion
  • Anaerobic gene regulation

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