A novel feature of the multistep phosphorelay in Escherichia coli: a revised model of the RcsC → YojN → RcsB signalling pathway implicated in capsular synthesis and swarming behaviour



In this study, we re-investigated the previously characterized RcsC (sensor His-kinase) → RcsB (response regulator) phosphorelay system that is involved in the regulation of capsular polysaccharide synthesis in Escherichia coli. The previously proposed model hypothesized the occurrence of a direct phosphotransfer from RcsC to RcsB in response to an unknown external stimulus. As judged from the current general view as to the His → Asp phosphorelay, this RcsC → RcsB framework is somewhat puzzling, because RcsC appears to contain both a His-kinase domain and a receiver domain, but not a histidine (His)-containing phosphotransmitter domain (e.g. HPt domain). We thus suspected that an as yet unknown mechanism might be underlying in this particular His → Asp phosphorelay system. Here, we provide several lines of in vivo and in vitro evidence that a novel and unique His-containing phosphotransmitter (named YojN) is essential for this signalling system. A revised model is proposed in which the multistep RcsC → YojN → RcsB phosphorelay is implicated. It was also demonstrated that this complex signalling system is somehow involved in the modulation of a characteristic behaviour of E. coli cells during colony formation on the surface of agar plates, namely swarming.