Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 109–117 | Cite as

Genetics of subtilin and nisin biosyntheses

Biosynthesis of lantibiotics
  • Karl-Dieter Entian
  • Willem M. de Vos


Several peptide antibiotics have been described as potent inhibitors of bacterial growth. With respect to their biosynthesis, they can be devided into two classes: (i) those that are synthesized by a non-ribosomal mechanism and (ii) those that are ribosomally synthesized. Subtilin and nisin belong to the ribosomally synthesized peptide antibiotics. They contain the rare amino acids dehydroalanine, dehydrobutyrine, meso-lanthionine, and 3-methyl-lanthionine. They are derived from prepeptides which are post-translationally modiffied and have been termed lantibiotics because of their characteristic lanthionine bridges (Schnell et al. 1988). Nisin is the most prominent lantibiotic and is used as a food preservative due to its high potency against certain gram-positive bacteria (Mattick & Hirsch 1944, 1947; Rayman & Hurst 1984). It is produced by Lactococcus lactis strains belonging to serological group N. The potent bactericidal activities of nisin and other lantibiotics are based on depolarization of energized bacterial cytoplasmic membranes. Breakdown of the membrane potential is initiated by the formation of pores through which molecules of low molecular weight are released. A trans-negative membrane potential of 50 to 100 mV is necessary for pore formation by nisin (Ruhr & Sahl 1985; Sahl et al. 1987). Nisin occurs as a partially amphiphilic molecule (Van de Ven et al. 1991). Apart from the detergent-like effect of nisin on cytoplasmic membranes, an inhibition of murein synthesis has also been discussed as the primary effect (Reisinger et al. 1980). In several countries nisin is used to prevent the growth of clostridia in cheese and canned food. The nisin peptide structure was first described by Gross & Morall (1971), and its structural gene was isolated in 1988 (Buchman et al. 1988; Kaletta & Entian 1989). Nisin has two natural variants, nisin A and nisin Z, which differ in a single amino acid residue at position 27 (histidin in nisin A is replaced by asparagin in nisin Z (Mulders et al. 1991; De Vos et al. 1993). Subtilin is produced by Bacillus subtilis ATCC 6633. Its chemical structure was first unravelled by Gross & Kiltz (1973) and its structural gene was isolated in 1988 (Banerjee & Hansen 1988). Subtilin shares strong similarities to nisin with an identical organization of the lanthionine ring structures (Fig. 1), and both lantibiotics possess similar antibiotic activities. Due to its easy genetic analysis B. subtilis became a very suitable model organism for the identification and characterization of genes and proteins involved in lantibiotic biosynthesis. The pathway by which nisin is produced is very similar to that of subtilin, and the proteins involved share significant homologies over the entire proteins (for review see also De Vos et al. 1995b). The respective genes have been identified adjacent to the structural genes, and are organized in operon-like structures (Fig. 2). These genes are responsible for post-translational modification, transport of the modified prepeptide, proteolytic cleavage, and immunity which prevents toxic effects on the producing bacterium. In addition to this, biosynthesis of subtilin and nisin is strongly regulated by a two-component regulatory system which consists of a histidin kinase and a response regulator protein.

Key words

lantibiotics bacteriocins subtilin nisin peptide antibiotics post-translational modification 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karl-Dieter Entian
    • 1
  • Willem M. de Vos
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for MicrobiologyUniversity of FrankfurtFrankfurt/M.Germany
  2. 2.Department of Biophysical ChemistryNIZOEdethe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of MicrobiologyWageningen Agricultural UniversityEdethe Netherlands

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