The response regulator CheB functions within the bacterial chemotaxis system together with the methyltransferase CheR to control the level of chemoreceptor methylation, influencing the signaling activities of the receptors. CheB catalyzes demethylation of specific methylglutamate residues introduced into the chemoreceptors by CheR. CheB has a two-domain architecture consisting of an N-terminal regulatory domain joined by a linker to a C-terminal effector domain. In the unphosphorylated state of the response regulator, the regulatory domain inhibits the methylesterase activity of the effector domain. Upon phosphorylation of a specific aspartate residue within the regulatory domain, the C-terminal methylesterase activity is stimulated, resulting in the subsequent demethylation of the chemoreceptors. We have investigated the mechanism of regulation of CheB activity by the N-terminal regulatory domain. First, we have found that phosphorylation of the N-terminal domain not only relieves inhibition of the C-terminal methylesterase activity but also provides an enhancement of this activity above that seen for the C-terminal effector domain alone. Second, we have identified mutations in CheB that show an enhancement of methylesterase activity in the absence of phosphorylation. Most of these single-site mutations are localized in the linker region joining the regulatory and effector domains. On the basis of these observations, we propose a model for activation of CheB in which phosphorylation of the regulatory domain results in a reorganization of the domain interface, allowing exposure of the active site to the receptor substrate and simultaneously stimulating methylesterase activity.
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