Thursday, May 5, 2016

217 - Short-Term Effect of Ammonium Chloride on Nitrogen Fixation by Azotobacter vinelandii and by Bacteroids of Rhizobium leguminosarum

The question here is how fixed nitrogen regulates nitrogenase in Azotobacter vinelandii. Adding ammonium above a certain concentration immediately shuts off nitrogen fixation, but the organism doesn't have the DRAT/DRAG enzyme system for ADP-ribosylation of the nitrogenase for posttranscriptional regulation that other organisms have.

This shut-off in A. vinelandii is not due solely to repression of nitrogenase synthesis, since that would not show an effect so quickly. To test alternative mechanisms, this paper took cells grown without fixed nitrogen, suspended them in buffer with a carbon source (sucrose or succinate) and oxygen, and measured acetylene reduction before and after adding ammonium. They also measured nucleotide phosphate levels and respiration.

As expected, adding ammonium greatly lowered nitrogen fixation. The ratio of ATP to ADP seemed mostly to increase though, so lack of ATP didn't seem to cause the inhibition. So what's left? Maybe lack of reducing equivalents used to reduce nitrogen.

Then they did a very confusing and poorly explained experiment (Fig 2) showing uptake of ammonium, which doesn't seem very surprising or informative. However, apparently adding a compound that dissipates membrane potential (valinomycin) caused the opposite effect (loss of ammonium), and another (nigericin) does the opposite (enhancing uptake), so that's somewhat interesting.

They measured proton motive force by a gradient of lipophilic cations, such as tetraphenylphosphonium, across the membrane. They also used a weak acid, 5,5-dimethyloxazolidine-2,4-dione to measure the pH gradient. The sum of these measurements was the proton motive force, in mV.

What they saw was that increasing amounts of ammonium chloride decreased the total proton motive force, but not the pH gradient part or the internal pH of the cells. So the electrical gradient was decreased. This could be because taking up a lot of ammonium, a cation, affects the charge of the membrane. I wonder if they could've tested this further using a different cation though.

Anyway, that's pretty interesting. Nitrogen fixation requires a fairly delicate redox balance, but this can be beneficial for the cells if they use imbalance to regulate their metabolism.

Reference:
Laane, C., Krone, W., Konings, W., Haaker, H. & Veeger, C. Short-Term Effect of Ammonium Chloride on Nitrogen Fixation by Azotobacter vinelandii and by Bacteroids of Rhizobium leguminosarum. Eur J Biochem 103, 39–46 (1980).

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