Molecular Mechanism for Attractant Signaling to DHMA by E. coli Tsr Academic Article uri icon


  • The attractant chemotaxis response of Escherichia coli to norepinephrine requires that it be converted to 3,4-dihydroxymandelic acid (DHMA) by the monoamine oxidase TynA and the aromatic aldehyde dehydrogenase FeaB. DHMA is sensed by the serine chemoreceptor Tsr, and the attractant response requires that at least one subunit of the periplasmic domain of the Tsr homodimer (pTsr) has an intact serine-binding site. DHMA that is generated in vivo by E. coli is expected to be a racemic mixture of the (R) and (S) enantiomers, so it has been unclear whether one or both chiral forms are active. Here, we used a combination of state-of-the-art tools in molecular docking and simulations, including an in-house simulation-based docking protocol, to investigate the binding properties of (R)-DHMA and (S)-DHMA to E. coli pTsr. Our studies computationally predicted that (R)-DHMA should promote a stronger attractant response than (S)-DHMA because of a consistently greater-magnitude piston-like pushdown of the pTsr α-helix 4 toward the membrane upon binding of (R)-DHMA than upon binding of (S)-DHMA. This displacement is caused primarily by interaction of DHMA with Tsr residue Thr156, which has been shown by genetic studies to be critical for the attractant response to L-serine and DHMA. These findings led us to separate the two chiral species and test their effectiveness as chemoattractants. Both the tethered cell and motility migration coefficient assays validated the prediction that (R)-DHMA is a stronger attractant than (S)-DHMA. Our study demonstrates that refined computational docking and simulation studies combined with experiments can be used to investigate situations in which subtle differences between ligands may lead to diverse chemotactic responses.

altmetric score

  • 2.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Orr, A. A., Yang, J., Sule, N., Chawla, R., Hull, K. G., Zhu, M., ... Tamamis, P.

citation count

  • 2

publication date

  • November 2019