Frankia; haemoglobin; hopanoids; hydrogenase; hyphae; nitrogenase
The actinorhizal bacterium Frankia expresses nitrogenase and can therefore convert molecular nitrogen into ammonia and the by-product hydrogen. However, nitrogenase is inhibited by oxygen. Consequently, Frankia and its actinorhizal hosts have developed various mechanisms for excluding oxygen from their nitrogen-containing compartments. These include the expression of oxygen-scavenging uptake hydrogenases, the formation of hopanoid-rich vesicles, enclosed by multi-layered hopanoid structures, the lignification of hyphal cell walls, and the production of haemoglobins in the symbiotic nodule. In this work, we analysed the expression and structure of the so-called uptake hydrogenase (Hup), which catalyses the in vivo dissociation of hydrogen to recycle the energy locked up in this ‘waste’ product. Two uptake hydrogenase syntons have been identified in Frankia: synton 1 is expressed under free-living conditions while synton 2 is expressed during symbiosis. We used qPCR to determine synton 1 hup gene expression in two Frankia strains under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. We also predicted the 3D structures of the Hup protein subunits based on multiple sequence alignments and remote homology modelling. Finally, we performed BLAST searches of genome and protein databases to identify genes that may contribute to the protection of nitrogenase against oxygen in the two Frankia strains. Our results show that in Frankia strain ACN14a, the expression patterns of the large (HupL1) and small (HupS1) uptake hydrogenase subunits depend on the abundance of oxygen in the external environment. Structural models of the membrane-bound hydrogenase subunits of ACN14a showed that both subunits resemble the structures of known [NiFe] hydrogenases (Volbeda et al. 1995), but contain fewer cysteine residues than the uptake hydrogenase of the Frankia DC12 and Eu1c strains. Moreover, we show that all of the investigated Frankia strains have two squalene hopane cyclase genes (shc1 and shc2). The only exceptions were CcI3 and the symbiont of Datisca glomerata, which possess shc1 but not shc2. Four truncated haemoglobin genes were identified in Frankia ACN14a and Eu1f, three in CcI3, two in EANpec1 and one in the Datisca glomerata symbiont (Dg).