Proteomics analysis of the metabolic transition between aerobic and anaerobic conditions in Escherichia coli
Refai, Mohammed Yahya
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As a facultative anaerobe, Escherichia coli has the ability to grow in anaerobic and aerobic environments. Despite detailed characterizations of this model organism in the presence and absence of oxygen, an in-depth understanding of changes to the proteome during transitions from aerobic to anaerobic growth is lacking. This thesis work focuses on elucidating how protein thiol oxidation and reduction change during a facultative anaerobe's transition from aerobic to anaerobic growth conditions, and pathways of thiol-mediated cell signaling. Redox driven changes in cysteine oxidation involved in signaling are referred to as 'thiol switches'. These modulate diverse biological activities ranging from gene expression and protein synthesis to environmental stress response. Surprisingly, little is known about the role of thiol switches during microbial transitions from aerobic and anaerobic growth conditions. To explore this uncharted territory, a mass-spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics workflow was developed and refined. Following extensive protocol optimization for high-throughput MS data processing, normalization, and pattern matching, the analytical pipeline was fine-tuned for the specific proteome-wide analysis of cysteine chemical modifications in E. coli. The approach was based on open-source software and publicly accessible databases, creating a transparent, reproducible, and easily sharable proteomics approach. Herein, the redox state and chemical forms of protein-based thiol switches in E. coli were characterized over time as the bacterium reversibly transitioned between aerobic and anaerobic growth conditions. Unexpectedly, differential alkylation analysis of cysteine-containing E. coli proteins revealed a higher degree of protein thiol oxidation under anaerobic growth conditions, a result not reported for E. coli or any other facultative anaerobe. Our proteome-wide analysis also revealed that cysteine redox potentials vary widely, and several specific E. coli proteins contain highly reactive thiols. These findings provide strong evidence for thiol-based signaling in E. coli in response to environmental changes such as aerobic to anaerobic growth transitions. Characterization of specific redox switches underlying metabolic changes associated with oxygen availability has uncovered a previously unknown E. coli cell signaling mechanism. Since transitioning between aerobic and anaerobic environments is associated with bacterial virulence, this work opens new avenues to target pathogenic facultative anaerobes and to develop novel thiol-based antibacterial therapies.