Bacterial chemotaxis receptors are posttranslationally modified by carboxyl methylation of specific glutamate residues within their cytoplasmic domains. This highly regulated, reversible modification counterbalances the signaling effects of ligand binding and contributes to adaptation. On the basis of the crystal structure of the y-glutamyl methyltransferase CheR, we have postulated that positively charged residues in helix α2 in the N-terminal domain of the enzyme may be complementary to the negatively charged methylation region of the methyltransferase substrates, the bacterial chemotaxis receptors. Several altered CheR proteins, in which positively charged arginine or lysine residues were substituted with alanines, were constructed and assayed for their methylation activities toward wild-type receptor and a series of receptor variants containing different glutamates available for methylation. One of the CheR mutant proteins (Arg53Ala) showed significantly lower activity toward all receptor constructs, suggesting that Arg53 may play a general role in catalysis of methyl transfer. The rest of the mutant proteins exhibited different patterns of relative methylation rates toward different receptor substrates, indicating specificity, probably through interaction of CheR with the receptor at sites distal to the specific site of methylation. The findings imply complementarity between positively charged residues of the α2 helix of CheR and the negatively charged glutamates of the receptor. It is likely that this complementarity is involved in discriminating different methylation states of the receptors.
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