Oxygen regulatory mechanisms of nitrogen fixation in rhizobia
Rutten PJ., Poole PS.
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd Rhizobia are α- and β-proteobacteria that form a symbiotic partnership with legumes, fixing atmospheric dinitrogen to ammonia and providing it to the plant. Oxygen regulation is key in this symbiosis. Fixation is performed by an oxygen-intolerant nitrogenase enzyme but requires respiration to meet its high energy demands. To satisfy these opposing constraints the symbiotic partners cooperate intimately, employing a variety of mechanisms to regulate and respond to oxygen concentration. During symbiosis rhizobia undergo significant changes in gene expression to differentiate into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids. Legumes host these bacteroids in specialized root organs called nodules. These generate a near-anoxic environment using an oxygen diffusion barrier, oxygen-binding leghemoglobin and control of mitochondria localization. Rhizobia sense oxygen using multiple interconnected systems which enable a finely-tuned response to the wide range of oxygen concentrations they experience when transitioning from soil to nodules. The oxygen-sensing FixL-FixJ and hybrid FixL-FxkR two-component systems activate at relatively high oxygen concentration and regulate fixK transcription. FixK activates the fixNOQP and fixGHIS operons producing a high-affinity terminal oxidase required for bacterial respiration in the microaerobic nodule. Additionally or alternatively, some rhizobia regulate expression of these operons by FnrN, an FNR-like oxygen-sensing protein. The final stage of symbiotic establishment is activated by the NifA protein, regulated by oxygen at both the transcriptional and protein level. A cross-species comparison of these systems highlights differences in their roles and interconnections but reveals common regulatory patterns and themes. Future work is needed to establish the complete regulon of these systems and identify other regulatory signals.