Despite its historical importance as a plague on humankind, syphilis remains among the most poorly understood of all human infections. This is a direct result of severe research constraints imposed by the historic inability to cultivate Treponema pallidum (Tp) continuously in vitro. In a departure from more conventional approaches, about 15 years ago we embarked on a bold structural biology-based initiative to characterize Tp?s lipoproteins (LPs), molecules critical to the membrane biology, bioenergetics, and intermediary metabolism of Tp, as a means of unlocking the mechanistic evolutionary ?secrets? of Tp infection and syphilis pathogenesis. This progressive research avenue has become a very successful discovery platform, yielding many highly novel findings, including establishing a number of new bacterial molecular paradigms. For example, we discovered a novel bi-functional FAD pyrophosphatase/FMN transferase in Tp; this, in turn, led us to identify a post-translational protein flavinylation pathway in Tp?s periplasm, yielding flavoproteins that ostensibly influence cellular redox reactions. We then obtained evidence for Tp encoding an atypical flavin-based Rhodobacter Nitrogen Fixation (RNF)-type redox pump, likely representing the longstanding missing link between Tp?s membrane electrochemical gradient, redox balance, ATP generation, and an acetogenic energy conservation pathway. Historically, Tp has been thought not to encode such systems. Our contention of a flavin-based redox system not only addresses a number of longstanding unexplained metabolic dilemmas for Tp, but it also engenders a paradigm shift by now establishing Tp as a flavin auxotroph. We also have demonstrated that TP0572, a putative FMN- dependent ferric reductase, is flavinylated by Ftp (TP0796), likely an essential prerequisite for Tp?s reductive iron assimilation pathway(s). In addition, predicted cytosolic flavoproteins must play prominently in protecting Tp from oxidative stress and in maintaining the balance of NAD+/NADH. These collective notions support that, with limited potential for ATP generation in the absence of quinones, Tp has evolved a ?flavin-centric metabolic lifestyle? to fulfill its metabolic requirements for human infection. This project shall address three core metabolic features relevant to Tp?s flavin biology: protein flavinylation and flavoprotein biogenesis (Aim 1), reductive iron assimilation and Fe-S protein biogenesis (Aim 2), and redox balance/energy conservation (via acetogenesis) (Aim 3). We also shall evaluate a small-molecule inhibitor(s) targeting Tp?s flavin auxotrophy as a potential new research tool(s) and/or new antimicrobial(s) against Tp and other pathogenic spirochetes (Aim 4). Taken together, this project shall elucidate key features concerning how Tp has evolved to exploit flavins as an underpinning of its stealth pathogenicity, potentially leading to new strategies to thwart human infection.

Public Health Relevance

Syphilis, caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, continues to play prominently as a sexually transmitted infection in the United States and worldwide. Given that the membrane lipoproteins of T. pallidum are recognized as being particularly vital to the biology of the spirochete, we are attempting to discern how the lipoproteins and their metabolic partners play prominently in T. pallidum?s complex parasitic strategy, with an emphasis on flavin utilization, thereby potentially revealing new strategies to thwart the infectious process in humans.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section (BACP)
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Vincent, Leah Rebecca
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University of Texas Sw Medical Center Dallas
Schools of Medicine
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Deka, Ranjit K; Liu, Wei Z; Tso, Shih-Chia et al. (2018) Biophysical insights into a highly selective l-arginine-binding lipoprotein of a pathogenic treponeme. Protein Sci 27:2037-2050
Brautigam, Chad A; Deka, Ranjit K; Liu, Wei Z et al. (2017) Functional clues from the crystal structure of an orphan periplasmic ligand-binding protein from Treponema pallidum. Protein Sci 26:847-856
Radolf, Justin D; Deka, Ranjit K; Anand, Arvind et al. (2016) Treponema pallidum, the syphilis spirochete: making a living as a stealth pathogen. Nat Rev Microbiol 14:744-759
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Bashiri, Ghader; Baker, Edward N (2015) Production of recombinant proteins in Mycobacterium smegmatis for structural and functional studies. Protein Sci 24:1-10
Deka, Ranjit K; Brautigam, Chad A; Liu, Wei Z et al. (2015) Evidence for Posttranslational Protein Flavinylation in the Syphilis Spirochete Treponema pallidum: Structural and Biochemical Insights from the Catalytic Core of a Periplasmic Flavin-Trafficking Protein. MBio 6:e00519-15
Scheuermann, Thomas H; Brautigam, Chad A (2015) High-precision, automated integration of multiple isothermal titration calorimetric thermograms: new features of NITPIC. Methods 76:87-98
Brautigam, Chad A (2015) Fitting two- and three-site binding models to isothermal titration calorimetric data. Methods 76:124-136

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