In nature, Escherichia coli are exposed to harsh and non-ideal growth environmentsnutrients may be limiting, and cells are often challenged by oxidative stress. For E. coli cells confronting these realities, there appears to be a link between oxidative stress, methionine availability, and the enzyme that catalyzes the final step of methionine biosynthesis, cobalamin-independent methionine synthase (MetE). We found that E. coli cells subjected to transient oxidative stress during growth in minimal medium develop a methionine auxotrophy, which can be traced to an effect on MetE. Further experiments demonstrated that the purified enzyme is inactivated by oxidized glutathione (GSSG) at a rate that correlates with protein oxidation. The unique site of oxidation was identified by selectively cleaving N-terminally to each reduced cysteine and analyzing the results by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Stoichiometric glutathionylation of MetE by GSSG occurs at cysteine 645, which is strategically located at the entrance to the active site. Direct evidence of MetE oxidation in vivo was obtained from thiol-trapping experiments in two different E. coli strains that contain highly oxidizing cytoplasmic environments. Moreover, MetE is completely oxidized in wild-type E. coli treated with the thiol-oxidizing agent diamide; reduced enzyme reappears just prior to the cells resuming normal growth.
We argue that for E. coli experiencing oxidizing conditions in minimal medium, MetE is readily inactivated, resulting in cellular methionine limitation. Glutathionylation of the protein provides a strategy to modulate in vivo activity of the enzyme while protecting the active site from further damage, in an easily reversible manner. While glutathionylation of proteins is a fairly common mode of redox regulation in eukaryotes, very few proteins in E. coli are known to be modified in this manner. Our results are complementary to the independent findings of Leichert and Jakob presented in the accompanying paper (), which provide evidence that MetE is one of the proteins in E. coli most susceptible to oxidation. In eukaryotes, glutathionylation of key proteins involved in protein synthesis leads to inhibition of translation. Our studies suggest a simpler mechanism is employed by E. coli to achieve the same effect.