Publication – Rother, Stock

Disruption and complementation of the selenocysteine biosynthesis pathway reveals a hierarchy of selenoprotein gene expression in the archaeon Methanococcus maripaludis.

Stock T, Selzer M, Connery S, Seyhan D, Resch A, Rother M. Molecular Microbiology, 2011 Oct 12. Abstract or full publication here.

Proteins containing selenocysteine are found in members of all three domains of life, Bacteria, Eukarya and Archaea. A dedicated tRNA (tRNAsec) serves as a scaffold for selenocysteine synthesis. However, sequence and secondary structures differ in tRNAsec from the different domains. An Escherichia coli strain lacking the gene for tRNAsec could only be complemented with the homologue from Methanococcus maripaludis when a single base in the anticodon loop was exchanged demonstrating that this base is a crucial determinant for archaeal tRNAsec to function in E. coli. Complementation in trans of M. maripaludis JJ mutants lacking tRNAsec, O-phosphoseryl-tRNAsec kinase or O-phosphoseryl-tRNAsec:selenocysteine synthase with the corresponding genes from M. maripaludis S2 restored the mutant’s ability to synthesize selenoproteins. However, only partial restoration of the wild-type selenoproteome was observed as only selenocysteine-containing formate dehydrogenase was synthesized. Quantification of transcripts showed that disrupting the pathway of selenocysteine synthesis leads to downregulation of selenoprotein gene expression, concomitant with upregulation of a selenium-independent backup system, which is not re-adjusted upon complementation. This transcriptional arrest was independent of selenophosphate but depended on the ‘history’ of the mutants and was inheritable, which suggests that a stable genetic switch may cause the resulting hierarchy of selenoproteins synthesized.