A protein trisulfide couples dissimilatory sulfate reduction to energy conservation

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Science  18 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6267, pp. 1541-1545
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad3558

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Sulfate reduction via a trisulfide

Microorganisms can respire sulfur compounds in the absence of oxygen, eventually leading to the production of hydrogen sulfide. This ancient metabolism is common in modern anoxic environments, but the enzymatic pathways aren't yet fully resolved. Through in vivo and in vitro experiments, Santos et al. clarify the enzymology of the sulfate reduction pathway in both bacteria and archaea (see the Perspective by Fritz and Kroneck). Reduction of the sulfite intermediate results in the linkage of two cysteine residues to a third sulfur atom from sulfite, forming a trisulfide product. Because the reduction of sulfite conveys a strong isotopic signature on sulfur in the environment, isotope fractionation models should account for this additional step.

Science, this issue p. 1541; see also p. 1476


Microbial sulfate reduction has governed Earth’s biogeochemical sulfur cycle for at least 2.5 billion years. However, the enzymatic mechanisms behind this pathway are incompletely understood, particularly for the reduction of sulfite—a key intermediate in the pathway. This critical reaction is performed by DsrAB, a widespread enzyme also involved in other dissimilatory sulfur metabolisms. Using in vitro assays with an archaeal DsrAB, supported with genetic experiments in a bacterial system, we show that the product of sulfite reduction by DsrAB is a protein-based trisulfide, in which a sulfite-derived sulfur is bridging two conserved cysteines of DsrC. Physiological studies also reveal that sulfate reduction rates are determined by cellular levels of DsrC. Dissimilatory sulfate reduction couples the four-electron reduction of the DsrC trisulfide to energy conservation.

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