The sole serine/threonine protein kinase and its cognate phosphatase from Aquifex aeolicus targets pyrimidine biosynthesis

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Serine/Threonine kinases participate in complex, interacting signaling pathways in eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and archae. While most organisms contain many different kinases, the extreme hyperthermophile, Aquifex aeolicus encodes a single hypothetical Ser/Thr kinase. A gene homologous to eukaryotic protein phosphatases overlaps the kinase gene by a single base pair. The putative kinase, AaSTPK and phosphatase, AaPPM, were cloned and expressed in E. coli, purified to homogeneity and found to be functional. AaSTPK is a 34-kDa monomer that can use MgATP, MnATP, or MnGTP as co-substrates, although MgATP appears to be the preferred substrate. AaSTPK was autophosphorylated on a threonine residue and was dephosphorylated by AaPPM. AaPPM phosphatase is homologous to the PPM sub-family of Ser/Thr phosphatases and was stimulated by MnCl2 and CoCl2 but not MgCl2. AaSTPK also phosphorylated one threonine residue on the carbamoyl phosphate synthetase, CPS.A subunit. Carbamoyl phosphate synthetase reconstituted with phosphorylated CPS.A had unaltered catalytic activity but allosteric inhibition by UMP and activation by the arginine intermediate, ornithine, were both appreciably attenuated. These changes in allosteric regulation would be expected to activate pyrimidine biosynthesis by releasing the constraints imposed on carbamoyl phosphate synthetase activity by UMP and uncoupling the regulation of pyrimidine and arginine biosynthesis. CPS.A was also dephosphorylated by AaPPM. Aquifex aeolicus occupies the lowest branch on the prokaryotic phylogenetic tree. The Thr/Ser kinase, its cognate phosphatase and a protein substrate may be elements of a simple signaling pathway, perhaps the most primitive example of this mode of regulation described thus far.

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