Systems-wide dissection of organic acid assimilation in pseudomonas aeruginosa reveals a novel path to underground metabolism

Stephen K. Dolan (Lead / Corresponding author), Andre Wijaya, Michael Kohlstedt, Lars Gläser, Paul Brear, Rafael Silva-Rocha, Christoph Wittmann, Martin Welch (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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The human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa) is one of the most frequent and severe causes of nosocomial infection. This organism is also a major cause of airway infections in people with cystic fibrosis (CF). Pa is known to have a remarkable metabolic plasticity, allowing it to thrive under diverse environmental conditions and ecological niches; yet, little is known about the central metabolic pathways that sustain its growth during infection or precisely how these pathways operate. In this work, we used a combination of 'omics approaches (transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and 13C-fluxomics) and reverse genetics to provide systems-level insight into how the infection-relevant organic acids succinate and propionate are metabolized by Pa. Moreover, through structural and kinetic analysis of the 2-methylcitrate synthase (2-MCS; PrpC) and its paralogue citrate (CIT) synthase (GltA), we show how these two crucial enzymatic steps are interconnected in Pa organic acid assimilation. We found that Pa can rapidly adapt to the loss of GltA function by acquiring mutations in a transcriptional repressor, which then derepresses prpC expression. Our findings provide a clear example of how "underground metabolism," facilitated by enzyme substrate promiscuity, "rewires" Pa metabolism, allowing it to overcome the loss of a crucial enzyme. This pathogen-specific knowledge is critical for the advancement of a model-driven framework to target bacterial central metabolism. IMPORTANCE Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic human pathogen that, due to its unrivalled resistance to antibiotics, ubiquity in the built environment, and aggressiveness in infection scenarios, has acquired the somewhat dubious accolade of being designated a "critical priority pathogen" by the WHO. In this work, we uncover the pathways and mechanisms used by P. aeruginosa to grow on a substrate that is abundant at many infection sites: propionate. We found that if the organism is prevented from metabolizing propionate, the substrate turns from being a convenient nutrient source into a potent poison, preventing bacterial growth. We further show that one of the enzymes involved in these reactions, 2-methylcitrate synthase (PrpC), is promiscuous and can moonlight for another essential enzyme in the cell (citrate synthase). Indeed, mutations that abolish citrate synthase activity (which would normally prevent the cell from growing) can be readily overcome if the cell acquires additional mutations that increase the expression of PrpC. This is a nice example of the evolutionary utility of so-called "underground metabolism."

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0254122
Number of pages23
Issue number6
Early online date15 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • enzyme promiscuity
  • 2-methylcitrate cycle
  • central metabolism
  • propionate metabolism
  • underground metabolism


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