Probing kinase and phosphatase activities of two-component systems in vivo with concentration-dependent phosphorylation profiling
Quantitative analyses of protein concentrations, modifications and activities in their native environments are playing an increasingly vital role in unraveling the general principles underlying signal transduction pathways. The prevalent bacterial two-component systems (TCSs) use a central phosphotransfer for signaling; however, in vivo characterization of the kinase and phosphatase activities of TCS proteins is often limited by traditional transcriptional reporter assays and complicated by simultaneous actions of multiple TCS activities. Here, we report a strategy that combines concentration-dependent phosphorylation profiling and mathematical modeling to characterize the cellular activities of the archetype Escherichia coli PhoR/PhoB system. Phosphorylation of the response regulator (RR) PhoB has been found to be dependent on the total concentrations of PhoB/PhoR and saturated at high concentrations. The relationship between RR phosphorylation and total concentrations has been defined by the modeling of the kinase and phosphatase reactions and quantified to derive the biochemical parameters of the PhoR/PhoB system in vivo. In a further test of this approach on a PhoB mutant, PhoBF20D, it proved highly effective in exploring the mechanistic differences of TCSs that are not revealed by traditional reporter assays. Measurement of biochemical parameters for PhoBF20D led to the discovery that a weaker interaction between the histidine sensor kinase and RR could result in a higher and nonrobust phosphorylation due to diminished phosphatase activities.