Effects of starvation for heme on the synthesis of porphyrins in Escherichia coli
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A study is described of the regulation of porphyrin synthesis in Escherichia coli using a heme-permeable, hemH deletion mutant, designated VS212. This strain utilizes only exogenous hemin that is supplied in the medium and accumulates porphyrins since the final step in the synthesis of heme is genetically blocked. It is possible, therefore, to monitor the rate of synthesis of heme by examining the accumulation of porphyrins. Using this system, we found that the rate of production of porphyrins depended on the availability of heme. The lower the concentration of hemin in the medium, the higher the level of porphyrins that accumulated. We next examined the mechanism responsible for the activation of porphyrin synthesis upon starvation for heme. The main activation occurred at the step that leads to the synthesis of 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). Starvation for heme induced the expression of a hemA-lacZ fusion gene, as previously reported, but an activation pathway that is independent of the hemA promoter was also identified. We found that starvation for heme caused the stringent response, and such starvation promoted the synthesis of porphyrins without having any effect on the expression of the hemA-lacZ fusion gene. We suggest a model for the regulation of porphyrin synthesis whereby the synthesis of porphyrins is coordinated with that of proteins.
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