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Brazilian Journal of Microbiology

Print version ISSN 1517-8382On-line version ISSN 1678-4405

Braz. J. Microbiol. vol.34 no.4 São Paulo Oct./Dec. 2003 



The NADP+-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase of the yeast Kluyveromyces marxianus responds to nitrogen repression similarly to Saccharomyces cerevisiae


Glutamato desidrogenase dependente de NADP+ da levedura Kluyveromyces marxianus responde à repressão catabólica de maneira similar à Saccharomyces cerevisiae



Marcos Antonio de Morais-Júnior

Setor de Biologia Molecular, Laboratório de Imonopatologia Keizo Asami, Departamento de Genética, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, PE, Brasil




NADP+-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase (NADP+-Gdh) is the first step in ammonia assimilation pathway in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the knowledge of its regulation is the key for many biotechnological purposes such as single cell protein production. The regulation of NADP+-Gdh activity in Kluyveromyces marxianus cells was evaluated under different ammonia supply in batch cultivations. The results showed that K. marxianus NADP+-Gdh activity is induced over a narrow range of extracellular ammonia supply, being repressed by both high ammonia concentration and the glutamate formed. This activity is not growth-associated and may function mainly to trace low amounts of ammonia after growth cessation. The results demonstrated that NADP+-Gdh may not be the main enzyme for ammonia assimilation in K. marxianus, as it has been postulated for K. lactis, instead is subjected to the same regulatory mechanism described for S. cerevisiae.

Key words: ammonia assimilation, enzyme activity, glutamate dehydrogenase, Kluyveromyces marxianus.


Glutamato desidrogenase dependente de NADP+ (NADP+-Gdh) constitui o primeiro passo enzimático no mecanismo de assimilação de nitrogênio em Saccharomyces cerevisiae e o conhecimento de sua regulação é chave na iniciativa de vários propósitos biotecnológicos, tais como a produção de proteína microbiana. A regulação da atividade NADP+-Gdh em células de Kluyveromyces marxianus foi avaliada a partir de diferentes condições de suprimento de amonia em cultivo em batelada. Os resultados mostraram que a atividade NADP+-Gdh de K. marxianus foi induzida em uma estreita faixa de concentração de amonia no meio, sendo reprimida tanto por altas concentrações deste composto quanto pelo produto glutamato. Esta atividade não está associada ao crescimento celular e deve funcionar principalmente no rastreamento de pequenas quantidades de amonia após a parada do crescimento celular. Isto demonstra que NADP+-Gdh não deve ser a principal enzima de assimilação de amonia em K. marxianus, como tem sido postulado para K. lactis, contudo deve estar submetida ao mesmo mecanismo regulatório encontrado em S. cerevisiae.

Palavras-chave: assimilação de amônia, atividade enzimática, glutamato desidrogenase, Kluyveromyces marxianus.




The availability of intracellular glutamate is essential for the transamination reactions involved in the amino acids biosynthetic pathways. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells there are two routes for glutamate formation. The first is considered to be the main glutamate-producing pathway in this yeast. The ammonia uptake from the medium is used to produce glutamate by the amination of 2-oxoglutarate by NADP+-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase (E.C. (NADP+-Gdh: 2-oxoglutarate + NADPH + NH4+ ® glutamate + NADP+), followed by the amination of glutamate to glutamine by glutamine synthase (E.C. (Gs: glutamate + ATP ® glutamine + ADP). In the second, glutamate is also produced in a transamination reaction, which transfers one amino group from glutamine to 2-oxoglutarate, catalysed by the glutamate synthase or glutamate-2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase (E.C. (Gogat: glutamine + 2-oxoglutarate + NADH ® 2 glutamate + NAD+) (9). When extracellular ammonia concentration exceed 5 mM, S. cerevisiae cells use preferentially NADP+-Gdh, whereas Gs-Gogat pathway is activated at low ammonia concentrations. On the other hand, Kluyveromyces lactis cells seem to use the Gs-Gogat pathway as the main glutamate biosynthetic pathway (12,14). Although this ATP-consuming pathway is energetically unfavourable, this could be related to the maintenance of redox equilibrium to re-oxidise the excess of NADH produced during glycolysis, since ethanolic fermentation does not occur in this yeast under oxygen supply (8).

It has been related the biotechnological use of Kluyveromyces in the "Yeast as Cell Factory" concept to produce amino acid-rich biomass due to its advantageous physiological characteristics compared to S. cerevisiae: the absence of ethanol production (Crabtree-negative effect), the lower catabolic repression response, the higher flux through the glycolytic pathway (8,15) and the high capacity of the respiratory enzymes (6,15). The close-related specie Kluyveromyces marxianus has been used to produce bioingredients, such as oligopeptides, oligosacharides and oligonucleotides mainly for pharmaceutical and food industries (1). Similarly to K. lactis, K. marxianus is Crabtree-negative yeast, generally regarded as safe for human and animal consumption and possesses an arsenal of hydrolytic extracellular hydrolases that enables its use for bioconversion of complex sugar-rich substrates into single cell protein. There are no reports in the literature regarding enzymes activities and its regulation on the nitrogen assimilation pathways in K. marxianus. Therefore, the necessity to understand those pathways precedes the efforts to produce amino acids-enriched K. marxianus biomass. The aim of this work was to study the behaviour of the NADP+-glutamate dehydrogenase activity of K. marxianus cells under different batch cultivation conditions. The results showed that the enzyme activity responds to the extracellular concentration of ammonia, being inhibited by high substrate concentrations. Moreover, it seemed to be controlled by the availability of ammonia or by the presence of free amino acids in the medium.



Yeast strain and culture condition

The prototrophic and diploid homothalic K. marxianus CBS6556 type strain was used in this work. Cells were maintained freshly in YPD medium and one colony was used to inoculate 50 mL mineral medium containing 1.7 g.L-1 yeast nitrogen base (w/o amino acids and ammonium sulfate), 20 g.L-1 glucose and 5 g.L-1 ammonium sulfate. After 16 h of cultivation, the cells were washed and transferred to a fresh mineral medium containing either glucose, lactose, ethanol or potassium acetate at 1% (w/v) as carbon sources or either ammonium sulfate, glutamate, glutamine or leucine at 40 mM, based on their molecular weight, as nitrogen souces. The cultures were incubated for further 16 h in rotating shaker at 30ºC. These cultures were used to inoculate specific mineral media at 1/50 dilution for flask-batch experiments. In pH-controlled experiments, media cultures were buffered with 10 mM PIPES [Piperazine-N,N'-bis (2-ethanesulfonic acid)] at indicated pH values. Duplicate experiments were performed for each tested culture condition.

Enzyme analysis

Cell density was accompanied by optical density of the culture at 660 nm. Cell biomass was washed in buffer (100 mM tris pH 7.5 and 1.5% triton X-100) and suspended in 1/100 initial volume with the same buffer. The cells were broken with acid-washed glass beads with four cycles of 30 s vortexing and 30 s on ice. Supernatants were collected and centrifuged for 20 min at 12,000 g to remove cell debris. The cell-free extracts were used for enzyme activity as described by Norkrans and Tunblad-Johansson (10). One enzyme unit (U) is the amount of protein capable of oxidazing 1 µmol NADPH/min at 30ºC. For very low enzyme activity, milli-unit (mU; 10-3 U) was used. Protein concentration was measured by the Folin-Ciocateau method (9). Enzyme specific activity referred to the amount of enzyme units per milligram of protein in the cell free extract. Residual glucose concentration in the supernatants was determined by the Dinitrosalisilic acid method (10), while residual ammonium concentration was measured according to Cataldo et al. (11). All reagents were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich Co.


Commercial YNB, yeast extract and peptone are from Difco Co. (Detroit, USA). Glucose and lactose are from Vetec (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Ethanol is from Merck S.A. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Ammonium sulfate, amino acids, PIPES, potassium acetate and the chemicals for enzyme activity and protein, glucose and ammonia determinations are from Sigma-Aldrich Co. (St. Louis, USA).



Cells of K. marxianus CBS6556 were batch cultivated in mineral medium containing glucose and ammonium sulfate as carbon and nitrogen sources, respectively, and the calculated maximum specific growth rate of 0.4 h-1. During this period a very low NADP+-Gdh activity (<10 was detected in cell-free extract (Fig. 1). However, when the residual ammonium concentration decreased below 8 mM it was possible to detect NADP+-Gdh activity in cell-free extracts, reaching a peak of 0.88 at 20 h of cultivation with low availability of ammonium (<0.6 mM) to sustain cell growth (Fig. 1). The decrease in the enzyme activity thereafter may be explained by the inability of NADP+-Gdh to trace the low level of intracellular ammonium. This result suggests that, similarly to S. cerevisiae, K. marxianus NADP+-Gdh activity primary functions to assimilate ammonium when its extracellular concentration is in a very narrow range.



The effect of initial ammonium concentration in the medium on the NADP+-Gdh activity was tested after growing yeast cells for 16 h as shown in Fig. 2. The highest enzyme activity was detected for cultures starting with 40 mM ammonium sulfate, which according to the fermentative profile in Fig. 1 should contain around 1 mM at 16 h of cultivation. The lower the concentration of ammonium sulfate at the beginning of cultivation, the lower enzyme activity was detected in cell-free extracts (Fig. 2). However, a short-term induction of the enzyme activity was observed 15 min after the addition of ammonium sulfate even at such low concentration of 0.5 mM in the medium (Fig. 2, insert). Additionally, cells cultivated at the highest initial ammonium sulfate concentration (80 mM) showed the lowest enzyme activity (Fig. 2). A similar effect was observed for S. cerevisiae cells upon cultivation in external ammonium concentrations above 50 mM (3). In that case, the highest enzyme activity was detected at 24 mM ammonium sulfate, decreasing for higher ammonium sulfate concentrations. Bongonez et al. (3) showed that intracellular ammonium concentration increased in the presence of increasing extracellular ammonium concentrations, which could be involved in the decreasing of enzyme activity in S. cerevisiae cells. Moreover, steady-state S. cerevisiae cells showed higher NADP+-Gdh activity at higher dilution rates, as a consequence of the decrease in the residual ammonia concentration in the supernatant (13). This effect of initial ammonium concentration on the K. marxianus NADP+-Gdh activity was followed along the cellular growth. In cultures with 10 mM initial ammonium sulfate, the NADP+-Gdh activity exponentially increased up to 8 h of cultivation, followed with a decrease caused probably by nitrogen depletion in the medium (Fig. 3). Nonetheless, cultures with 40 mM initial ammonium sulfate showed biphasic behaviour with a linear increase for the first 4 h followed by an exponential increase.





An alternative way for testing the effect of ammonium concentration on the enzyme activity is to induce its intracellular accumulation. Ammonium uptake operates in yeast at very narrow pH range (5.5-7.5) (5). At low pH, ammonium ion (NH4+) formation is favoured and in yeast cells ammonium uptake is mediated by an H+-antiport transport systems at expenses of ATP (1 ATP per mol of NH4+). This explains the medium acidification observed when growing yeast cell on glucose and ammonium salt. However, at higher pH the ammonia (NH3) formed accumulates in growing cells essentially by diffusion process (3). This methodology was used for further verification of the effect of high ammonium concentration on NADP+-Gdh activity. Cell cultivations were carried out in buffered mineral medium and the results are presented in Table 1. NADP+-Gdh activity decreased 6- and 10-fold when pH of medium was buffered at 5 or 7.5, respectively, comparing to a non-buffered condition. Bogonez et al. (3) observed a 10-fold increase in intracellular ammonia concentration of S. cerevisiae cells when medium pH was maintained at 5, which was followed by a 2-fold decrease in NADP+-Gdh activity. That decreasing in the enzyme activity was even higher by raising medium pH to 7. Our results indicate that K. marxianus NADP+-Gdh also negatively responds to the increasing in intracellular ammonium concentration.



The effects of different carbon sources on the NADP+-Gdh activity were also evaluated. K. marxianus cells showed significantly lower specific growth rate on ethanol when comparing to glucose (Table 2), which were practically the same values found for shake flask cultivation of K. lactis cells in both carbon sources (8). No effect on the cell growth was observed for lactose media. For cultivation on either glucose (respiro-fermentative carbon source) or ethanol (fully respiratory carbon source) no difference on the enzyme activity was observed (Table 2), suggesting that the enzyme is not subjected to glucose repression. On the other hand, the use of acetate as the single carbon source promoted a 3-fold decreased in the specific growth rate and a 10-fold decrease in the NADP+-Gdh activity (Table 2). These effects were also observed for S. cerevisiae cells (3). This raises two possible explanations: growth-association or substrate-repression. The dependence of the NADP+-Gdh activity on the growth rate could be discharged by the enzyme kinetics as shown in the Fig. 1 and the values attained on ethanol. A long-term exposure to high ammonium concentration, with consequent raising in the intracellular ammonium, seems therefore to be a better explanation. Contrary to found in the present paper (Fig. 1), NADP+-Gdh activity of K. lactis cells grown in mineral medium was higher at the beginning of cultivation and decreased along the cell growth (14).

Finally, it was investigated whether the same nitrogen-regulatory mechanism that takes place in S. cerevisiae can be applied for K. marxianus. A 3.5-fold reduction of the NADP+-Gdh activity was observed for cells growing on glutamate, followed by 2-fold decrease in leucine and 1.8-fold decrease in glutamine, when compared to ammonia-growing cells (Table 2). However, glutamine seems to repress GDH1 gene expression more severely in S. cerevisiae cells than glutamate (7,13), while leucine promoted a 2-fold repression in the gene expression (7). The excess of leucine acts by repressing the enzymes of its first biosynthetic pathway, impairing a-isopropylmalate formation. This compound is essential for inducing Leu3p activator protein to binding UASLEU element in the promotor region of GDH1 gene. Therefore, this gene is less induced in leucine-growing S. cerevisiae cells (7). Glutamine, and possible glutamate, exerts repression effect by activating the Ure2p repressor, which in turn inactivates Gln3p responsible for activating nitrogen-regulated genes in S. cerevisiae (13). This may be an indication that K. marxianus GDH1 gene, which has not been cloned to date, may have UASLEU element in its promotor region, and may be regulated by the same regulatory pathway as S. cerevisiae.

The evidences presented here suggest that ammonium assimilation pathway of K. marxianus resembles more that of S. cerevisiae than its closely related specie K. lactis.



This work was supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) by the grant AI-524562/96-2.



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Submitted: April 04, 2003; Returned to Authors for corrections: July 24, 2003; Approved: September 12, 2003



* Corresponding author: Mailing Address: Departamento de Genética, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco. Av. Moraes Rego, s/n. 50670-901, Recife, PE, Brasil. Tel.: (+5581) 2126-8569. Fax: (+5581) 2126-8522. E-mail:

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