Nitrogen sources commonly used by cyanobacteria include ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, urea and atmospheric N2, and some cyanobacteria can also assimilate arginine or glutamine. ABC (ATP-binding cassette)-type permeases are involved in the uptake of nitrate/nitrite, urea and most amino acids, whereas secondary transporters take up ammonium and, in some strains, nitrate/nitrite. In cyanobacteria, nitrate and nitrite reductases are ferredoxin-dependent enzymes, arginine is catabolized by a combination of the urea cycle and arginase pathway, and urea is degraded by a Ni2+-dependent urease. These pathways provide ammonium that is incorporated into carbon skeletons through the glutamine synthetase–glutamate synthase cycle, in which 2-oxoglutarate is the final nitrogen acceptor. The expression of many nitrogen assimilation genes is subjected to regulation being activated by the nitrogen-control transcription factor NtcA, which is autoregulatory and whose activity appears to be influenced by 2-oxoglutarate and the signal transduction protein PII. In some filamentous cyanobacteria, N2 fixation takes place in specialized cells called heterocysts that differentiate from vegetative cells in a process strictly controlled by NtcA.

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