A PAS-domain containing chemoreceptor couples dynamic changes in metabolism with chemotaxis


Chemoreceptors provide sensory specificity and sensitivity that enable motile bacteria to seek optimal positions for growth and metabolism in gradients of various physicochemical cues. Despite the abundance of chemoreceptors, little is known regarding the sensory specificity and the exact contribution of individual chemoreceptors to the lifestyle of bacteria. Azospirillum brasilense are motile bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen under microaerophilic conditions. Here, we characterized a chemoreceptor in this organism, named AerC, which functions as a redox sensor that enables the cells to seek microaerophilic conditions that support optimum nitrogen fixation. AerC is a representative of a widespread class of soluble chemoreceptors that monitor changes in the redox status of the electron transport system via the FAD cofactor associated with its PAS domains. In A. brasilense, AerC clusters at the cell poles. Its cellular localization and contribution to the behavioral response correlate with its expression pattern and with changes in the overall cellular FAD content under nitrogen-fixing conditions. AerC-mediated energy taxis in A. brasilense prevails under conditions of nitrogen fixation, illustrating a strategy by which cells optimize chemosensing to signaling cues that directly affect current metabolic activities and thus revealing a mechanism by which chemotaxis is coordinated with dynamic changes in cell physiology.