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Adaptation at the output of the chemotaxis signalling pathway


In the bacterial chemotaxis network, receptor clusters process input1,2,3, and flagellar motors generate output4. Receptor and motor complexes are coupled by the diffusible protein CheY-P. Receptor output (the steady-state concentration of CheY-P) varies from cell to cell5. However, the motor is ultrasensitive, with a narrow operating range of CheY-P concentrations6. How the match between receptor output and motor input might be optimized is unclear. Here we show that the motor can shift its operating range by changing its composition. The number of FliM subunits in the C-ring increases in response to a decrement in the concentration of CheY-P, increasing motor sensitivity. This shift in sensitivity explains the slow partial adaptation observed in mutants that lack the receptor methyltransferase and methylesterase7,8 and why motors show signal-dependent FliM turnover9. Adaptive remodelling is likely to be a common feature in the operation of many molecular machines.

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Figure 1: Motor responses to stepwise addition of chemical attractants monitored by the bead assay.
Figure 2: FRET responses (Y/C ratio) of cheR cheB cells to stepwise addition of chemical attractants.
Figure 3: CW bias as a function of CheY-P concentration.
Figure 4: Changes in single-motor FliM−YFP fluorescence intensities in cheR cheB cells tethered by hooks and stimulated by addition of attractant (at time t 0 , arrow).


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This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant AI016478. R.W.B. is a recipient of an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship.

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J.Y. and H.C.B. planned the work and wrote the first draft of the paper. J.Y. performed the research with help on the MWC model and TIRF experiment and analysis from R.W.B. and on TIRF analysis from B.G.H.

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Correspondence to Howard C. Berg.

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Yuan, J., Branch, R., Hosu, B. et al. Adaptation at the output of the chemotaxis signalling pathway. Nature 484, 233–236 (2012).

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