The AROM protein is a pentadomain protein catalysing steps two to six in the prechorismate section of the shikimate pathway in microbial eukaryotes. On the basis of amino acid sequence alignments and the properties of mutants unable to utilize quinic acid as a carbon source, the AROM protein has been proposed to be homologous throughout its length with the proteins regulating transcription of the genes necessary for quinate catabolism. The QUTR transcription repressor protein has been proposed to be homologous with the three C-terminal domains of the AROM protein and one-fifth of the penultimate N-terminal domain. We report here the results of experiments designed to overproduce the QUTR and AROM proteins and their constituent domains in Escherichia coli, the purpose being to facilitate domain purification and (in the case of AROM), complementation of E. coli aro- mutations in order to probe the degree to which individual domains are stable and functional. The 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase domain of the AROM protein and the 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase-like domain of the QUTR protein were purified in bulk and subjected to comparative CD spectroscopy and fluorescence emission spectroscopy. The CD spectra were found to be virtually superimposable. The fluorescence emission spectra of both domains had the signal from the tryptophan residues almost completely quenched, giving a tyrosine-dominated spectrum for both the AROM- and QUTR-derived domains. This unexpected observation was demonstrated to be due to a highly unusual environment provided by the tertiary structure, as addition of the denaturant guanidine hydrochloride gave a typical tryptophan-dominated spectrum for both domains. The spectroscopy experiments had the potential to refute the biologically-based proposal for a common origin for the AROM and QUTR proteins; however, the combined biophysical data are consistent with the hypothesis. We have previously reported that the AROM dehydroquinate synthase and 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase are stable and functional as individual domains, but that the 5-enol-pyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase is only active as part of the complete AROM protein or as a bi-domain fragment with dehydroquinate synthase. Here we report that the aromA gene (encoding the AROM protein) of Aspergillus nidulans contains a 53 nt intron in the extreme C-terminus of the shikimate dehydrogenase domain. This finding accounts for the previously reported observation that the AROM protein was unable to complement aroE- (lacking shikimate dehydrogenase) mutations in E. coli. When the intron is removed the correctly translated AROM protein is able to complement the E. coli aroE- mutation. An AROM-derived shikimate dehydrogenase domain is, however, non-functional, but function is restored in a bi-domain protein with 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase. This interaction is not entirely specific, as substitution of the 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase domain with the glutathione S-transferase protein partially restores enzyme activity. Similarly an AROM-derived shikimate kinase domain is non-functional, but is functional as part of the complete AROM protein, or as a bi-domain protein with 3-dehydroquinate dehydratase.

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