BACKGROUND - KaiC, a central clock protein in cyanobacteria, undergoes circadian oscillations between hypophosphorylated and hyperphosphorylated forms in vivo and in vitro. Structural analyses of KaiC crystals have identified threonine and serine residues in KaiC at three residues (T426, S431, and T432) as potential sites at which KaiC is phosphorylated; mutation of any of these three sites to alanine abolishes rhythmicity, revealing an essential clock role for each residue separately and for KaiC phosphorylation in general. Mass spectrometry studies confirmed that the S431 and T432 residues are key phosphorylation sites, however, the role of the threonine residue at position 426 was not clear from the mass spectrometry measurements.
METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS - Mutational approaches and biochemical analyses of KaiC support a key role for T426 in control of the KaiC phosphorylation status in vivo and in vitro and demonstrates that alternative amino acids at residue 426 dramatically affect KaiC's properties in vivo and in vitro, especially genetic dominance/recessive relationships, KaiC dephosphorylation, and the formation of complexes of KaiC with KaiA and KaiB. These mutations alter key circadian properties, including period, amplitude, robustness, and temperature compensation. Crystallographic analyses indicate that the T426 site is phosphorylatible under some conditions, and in vitro phosphorylation assays of KaiC demonstrate labile phosphorylation of KaiC when the primary S431 and T432 sites are blocked.
CONCLUSIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE - T426 is a crucial site that regulates KaiC phosphorylation status in vivo and in vitro and these studies underscore the importance of KaiC phosphorylation status in the essential cyanobacterial circadian functions. The regulatory roles of these phosphorylation sites--including T426--within KaiC enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanism underlying circadian rhythm generation in cyanobacteria.