The chemoreceptor Tcp of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium can sense citrate and a metal-citrate complex as distinct attractants. In this study, we tried to investigate the molecular mechanism of this discrimination. That citrate binds directly to Tcp was verified by the site-specific thiol modification assays using membrane fractions prepared from Escherichia coli cells expressing the mutant Tcp receptors in which single Cys residues were introduced at positions in the putative ligand-binding pocket. To determine the region responsible for the ligand discrimination, we screened for mutations defective in taxis to magnesium in the presence of citrate. All of the isolated mutants from random mutagenesis with hydroxylamine were defective in both citrate and metal-citrate sensing, and the mutated residues are located in or near the alpha1-alpha2 and alpha3-alpha4 loops within the periplasmic domain. Further analyses with site-directed replacements around these regions demonstrated that the residue Asn(67), which is presumed to lie at the subunit interface of the Tcp homodimer, plays a critical role in the recognition of the metal-citrate complex but not that of citrate. Various amino acids at this position differentially affect the citrate and metal-citrate sensing abilities. Thus, for the first time, the abilities to sense the two attractants were genetically dissected. Based on the results obtained in this study, we propose models in which the discrimination of the metal-citrate complex from citrate involves cooperative interaction at Asn(67) and allosteric switching.
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