Different polyamine pathways from bacteria have replaced eukaryotic spermidine biosynthesis in ciliates Tetrahymena thermophila and Paramecium tetaurelia

Bin Li, Sok Ho Kim, Yang Zhang, Colin C. Hanfrey, Katherine A. Elliott, Steven E. Ealick, Anthony J. Michael

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Summary: The polyamine spermidine is absolutely required for growth and cell proliferation in eukaryotes, due to its role in post-translational modification of essential translation elongation factor eIF5A, mediated by deoxyhypusine synthase. We have found that free-living ciliates Tetrahymena and Paramecium lost the eukaryotic genes encoding spermidine biosynthesis: S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (AdoMetDC) and spermidine synthase (SpdSyn). In Tetrahymena, they were replaced by a gene encoding a fusion protein of bacterial AdoMetDC and SpdSyn, present as three copies. In Paramecium, a bacterial homospermidine synthase replaced the eukaryotic genes. Individual AdoMetDC-SpdSyn fusion protein paralogues from Tetrahymena exhibit undetectable AdoMetDC activity; however, when two paralogous fusion proteins are mixed, AdoMetDC activity is restored and spermidine is synthesized. Structural modelling indicates a functional active site is reconstituted by sharing critical residues from two defective protomers across the heteromer interface. Paramecium was found to accumulate homospermidine, suggesting it replaces spermidine for growth. To test this concept, a budding yeast spermidine auxotrophic strain was found to grow almost normally with homospermidine instead of spermidine. Biosynthesis of spermidine analogue aminopropylcadaverine, but not exogenously provided norspermidine, correlated with some growth. Finally, we found that diverse single-celled eukaryotic parasites and multicellular metazoan Schistosoma worms have lost the spermidine biosynthetic pathway but retain deoxyhypusine synthase. The polyamine spermidine is essential for eukaroytic life due to its role in the post-translational modification of translation elongation factor eIF5A. Eukaryotic biosynthetic genes for spermidine production have been lost in the ciliates Tetrahymena thermophila and Paramecium tetaurelia and replaced with bacterial genes for spermidine and homospermidine biosynthesis, respectively. Many eukaryotic parasites have become spermidine auxotrophs including multicellular Schistosoma worms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-807
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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