The uptake of nickel in Escherichia coli and other microorganisms is transcriptionally regulated by the NikR repressor or its homologs. Here we report the structure of the high-affinity nickel-binding site in NikR and show that it responds dramatically to DNA binding. X-ray absorption spectroscopy reveals that nickel in the holo-NikR protein is bound in a novel four-coordinate planar site consisting of two histidines, one additional O- or N-donor ligand and one S-donor ligand. Site-directed mutation of His87, His89, Cys95 or Glu97 in NikR to alanine eliminates high-affinity nickel binding and abolishes DNA binding but maintains stable protein folding. An unanticipated feature of the NikR structure is that the nickel coordination responds to DNA binding. A six-coordinate nickel site composed of O- or N-donor ligands, but lacking cysteine, forms when NikR binds to operator DNA. Because nickel binding and DNA binding are mediated by different domains within NikR, a communication link between the two domains is implicated, consistent with the finding that the nickel-binding site in a fragment corresponding to the C-terminal domain of NikR is structurally distinct from that found in holo-NikR.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Structural Biology