The heteropolymeric O-antigen of the lipopolysaccharide from Pseudomonas aeruginosa serogroup O5 as well as the band-A trisaccharide from Bordetella pertussis contain the di-N-acetylated mannosaminuronic acid derivative, β-D-ManNAc3NAcA (2,3-diacetamido-2,3-dideoxy-β-D-mannuronic acid). The biosynthesis of the precursor for this sugar is proposed to require five steps, through which UDP-α-D-GlcNAc (UDP-N-acetyl-α-D-glucosamine) is converted via four steps into UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAcA (UDP-2,3-diacetamido-2,3-dideoxy-α-D-glucuronic acid), and this intermediate compound is then epimerized by WbpI (P. aeruginosa), or by its orthologue, WlbD (B. pertussis), to form UDP-α-D-ManNAc3NAcA (UDP-2,3-diacetamido-2,3-dideoxy-α-D-mannuronic acid). UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAcA, the proposed substrate for WbpI and WlbD, was obtained through chemical synthesis. His6–WbpI and His6–WlbD were overexpressed and then purified by affinity chromatography using FPLC. Capillary electrophoresis was used to analyse reactions with each enzyme, and revealed that both enzymes used UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAcA as a substrate, and reacted optimally in sodium phosphate buffer (pH 6.0). Neither enzyme utilized UDP-α-D-GlcNAc, UDP-α-D-GlcNAcA (UDP-2-acetamido-2,3-dideoxy-α-D-glucuronic acid) or UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAc (UDP-2,3-diacetamido-2,3-dideoxy-α-D-glucose) as substrates. His6–WbpI or His6–WlbD reactions with UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAcA produce a novel peak with an identical retention time, as shown by capillary electrophoresis. To unambiguously characterize the reaction product, enzyme–substrate reactions were allowed to proceed directly in the NMR tube and conversion of substrate into product was monitored over time through the acquisition of a proton spectrum at regular intervals. Data collected from one- and two-dimensional NMR experiments showed that His6–WbpI catalysed the 2-epimerization of UDP-α-D-GlcNAc3NAcA, converting it into UDP-α-D-ManNAc3NAcA. Collectively, these results provide evidence that WbpI and WlbD are UDP-2,3-diacetamido-2,3-dideoxy-α-D-glucuronic acid 2-epimerases.

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