Apo-bacteriophytochromes modulate bacterialphotosynthesis in response to low light

Kathryn R. Fixen, Anna W. Baker, Emina A. Stojkovic, J. Thomas Beatty, Caroline S. Harwood

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Bacteriophytochromes (BphPs) are light-sensing regulatory proteins encoded by photosynthetic and nonphotosynthetic bacteria. This protein class has been characterized structurally, but its biological activities remain relatively unexplored. Two BphPs in the anoxygenic photosynthetic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris, designated regulatory proteins RpBphP2 and RpBphP3, are configured as light-regulated histidine kinases, which initiate a signal transduction system that controls expression of genes for the low light harvesting 4 (LH4) antenna complex. In vitro, RpBphP2 and RpBphP3 respond to light quality by reversible photoconversion, a property that requires the light-absorbing chromophore biliverdin. In vivo, RpBphP2 and RpBphP3 are both required for the expression of the LH4 antenna complex under anaerobic conditions, but biliverdin requires oxygen for its synthesis by heme oxygenase. On further investigation, we found that the apo-bacteriophytochrome forms of RpBphP2 and RpBphP3 are necessary and sufficient to control LH4 expression in response to light intensity in conjunction with other signal transduction proteins. One possibility is that the system senses a reduced quinone pool generated when light energy is absorbed by bacteriochlorophyll. The biliverdin-bound forms of the BphPs have the additional property of being able to fine-tune LH4 expression in response to light quality. These observations support the concept that some bacteriophytochromes can function with or without a chromophore and may be involved in regulating physiological processes not directly related to light sensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E237-E244
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Gene regulation
  • Photoregulation
  • Purple nonsulfur bacteria
  • Redox control


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