Mycobacterium smegmatis grows best on l-asparagine as a sole nitrogen source; this was confirmed. [14C]Aspartate was taken up rapidly (46 nmol · mg dry cells−1· h−1 from 1 mM l-asparagine) and metabolised to CO2 as well as to amino acids synthesised through the aspartate pathway. Proportionately more radioactivity appeared in the amino acids in bacteria grown in medium containing low nitrogen.
Activities of aspartokinase and homoserine dehydrogenase, the initial enzymes of the aspartate pathway, were carried by separate proteins. Aspartokinase was purified as three isoenzymes and represented up to 8% of the soluble protein of M. smegmatis. All three isoenzymes contained molecular mass subunits of 50 kDa and 11 kDa which showed no activity individually; full enzyme activity was recovered on pooling the subunits. Km values for aspartate were: aspartokinases I and III, 2.4 mM; aspartokinase II, 6.4 mM. Aspartokinase I was inhibited by threonine and homoserine and aspartokinase III by lysine, but aspartokinase II was not inhibited by any amino acids. Aspartokinase activity was repressed by methionine and lysine with a small residue of activity attributable to unrepressed aspartokinase I. Homoserine dehydrogenase activity was 96% inhibited by 2 mM threonine; isoleucine, cysteine and valine had lesser effects and in combination gave additive inhibition. Homoserine dehydrogenase was repressed by threonine and leucine. Only amino acids synthesised through the aspartate pathway were tested for inhibition and repression. Of these, only one, meso-diaminopimilate, had no discernable effect on either enzyme activity.