PelX is a UDP-N-acetylglucosamine C4-epimerase involved in Pel polysaccharide–dependent biofilm formation
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Pel is a GalNAc-rich bacterial polysaccharide that contributes to the structure and function of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. The pelABCDEFG operon is highly conserved among diverse bacterial species, and Pel may therefore be a widespread biofilm determinant. Previous annotation of pel gene clusters has helped us identify an additional gene, pelX, that is present adjacent to pelABCDEFG in >100 different bacterial species. The pelX gene is predicted to encode a member of the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase (SDR) superfamily, but its potential role in Pel-dependent biofilm formation is unknown. Herein, we have used Pseudomonas protegens Pf-5 as a model to elucidate PelX function as Pseudomonas aeruginosa lacks a pelX homologue in its pel gene cluster. We found that P. protegens forms Pel-dependent biofilms; however, despite expression of pelX under these conditions, biofilm formation was unaffected in a ΔpelX strain. This observation led us to identify a pelX paralogue, PFL_5533, which we designate here PgnE, that appears to be functionally redundant to pelX In line with this, a ΔpelX ΔpgnE double mutant was substantially impaired in its ability to form Pel-dependent biofilms. To understand the molecular basis for this observation, we determined the structure of PelX to 2.1 Å resolution. The structure revealed that PelX resembles UDP-GlcNAc C4-epimerases. Using 1H NMR analysis, we show that PelX catalyzes the epimerization between UDP-GlcNAc and UDP-GalNAc. Our results indicate that Pel-dependent biofilm formation requires a UDP-GlcNAc C4-epimerase that generates the UDP-GalNAc precursors required by the Pel synthase machinery for polymer production.
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