The superfamily of chemotaxis transducers: from physiology to genomics and back


Chemotaxis transducers are specialized receptors that microorganisms use in order to sense the environment in directing their motility to favorable niches. The Escherichia coli transducers are models for studying the sensory and signaling events at the molecular level. Extensive studies in other organisms and the arrival of genomics has resulted in the accumulation of sequences of many transducer genes, but they are not fully understood. In silico analysis provides some assistance in classification of various transducers from different species and in predicting their function. All transducers contain two structural modules: a conserved C-terminal multidomain module, which is a signature element of the transducer superfamily, and a variable N-terminal module, which is responsible for the diversity within the superfamily. These structural modules have two distinct functions: the conserved C-terminal module is involved in signaling and adaptation, and the N-terminal module is involved in sensing various stimuli. Both C-terminal and N-terminal modules appear to be mobile genetic elements and subjects of duplication and lateral transfer. Although chemotaxis transducers are found exclusively in prokaryotic organisms that have some type of motility (flagellar, gliding or pili-based), several types of domains that are found in their N-terminal modules are also present in signal transduction proteins from eukaryotes, including humans. This indicates that basic principles of sensory transduction are conserved throughout the phylogenetic tree and that the chemotaxis transducer superfamily is a valuable source of novel sensory elements yet to be discovered.