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Summary

waaL has been implicated as the gene that encodes the O-antigen ligase. To date, in vitro biochemical evidence to prove that WaaL possesses ligase activity has been lacking due to the difficulty of purifying WaaL and unavailability of substrates. Here we describe the purification of WaaL, a membrane protein with 11 potential transmembrane segments from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and the development of an in vitro O-antigen ligase assay. WaaL was expressed in a P. aeruginosa wbpL knockout strain, which is defective in its initial glycosyltransferase for O-antigen biosynthesis. This approach allowed the purification of WaaL without contaminating O-antigen-undecaprenol-phosphate (Und-P) molecules. Purified WaaL resolved to a monomer (35 kDa) and a dimer (70 kDa) band in SDS-PAGE. The substrates for the O-antigen ligase assay, O-antigen-Und-P and lipid A-core were prepared from a waaL mutant. ATP at 2–4 mM is optimum for the O-ligase activity, and ATP hydrolysis by WaaL follows Michaelis–Menten kinetics. Site-directed mutagenesis analysis indicated that the periplasmic loop region of WaaL is important for ligase activity. A waaL mutant of P. aeruginosa could not be cross-complemented by waaL of Escherichia coli, which suggested that each of these proteins has specificity for its cognate core oligosaccharide.