Expression cloning and biochemical characterization of a Rhizobium leguminosarum lipid A 1-phosphatase

Mark J. Karbarz, Suzanne R. Kalb, Robert J. Cotter, Christian R.H. Raetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lipid A of Rhizobium leguminosarum, a nitrogen-fixing plant endosymbiont, displays several significant structural differences when compared with Escherichia coli. An especially striking feature of R. leguminosarum lipid A is that it lacks both the 1- and 4′-phosphate groups. Distinct lipid A phosphatases that attack either the 1 or the 4′ positions have previously been identified in extracts of R. leguminosarum and Rhizobium etli but not Sinorhizobium meliloti or E. coli. Here we describe the identification of a hybrid cosmid (pMJK-1) containing a 25-kb R. leguminosarum 3841 DNA insert that directs the overexpression of the lipid A 1-phosphatase. Transfer of pMJK-1 into S. meliloti 1021 results in heterologous expression of 1-phosphatase activity, which is normally absent in extracts of strain 1021, and confers resistance to polymyxin. Sequencing of a 7-kb DNA fragment derived from the insert of pMJK-1 revealed the presence of a lipid phosphatase ortholog (designated LpxE). Expression of lpxE in E. coli behind the T7lac promoter results in the appearance of robust 1-phosphatase activity, which is normally absent in E. coli membranes. Matrix-assisted laser-desorption/time of flight and radiochemical analysis of the product generated in vitro from the model substrate lipid IVA confirms the selective removal of the 1-phosphate group. These findings show that lpxE is the structural gene for the 1-phosphatase. The availability of lpxE may facilitate the re-engineering of lipid A structures in diverse Gram-negative bacteria and allow assessment of the role of the 1-phosphatase in R. leguminosarum symbiosis with plants. Possible orthologs of LpxE are present in some intracellular human pathogens, including Francisella tularensis, Brucella melitensis, and Legionella pneumophila.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39269-39279
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 10 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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