Metabolic network for the biosynthesis of intra- and extracellular alpha-glucans required for virulence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis synthesizes intra- and extracellular alpha-glucans that were believed to originate from separate pathways. The extracellular glucose polymer is the main constituent of the mycobacterial capsule that is thought to be involved in immune evasion and virulence. However, the role of the alpha-glucan capsule in pathogenesis has remained enigmatic due to an incomplete understanding of a-glucan biosynthetic pathways preventing the generation of capsule-deficient mutants. Three separate and potentially redundant pathways had been implicated in alpha-glucan biosynthesis in mycobacteria: the GlgC-GlgA, the Rv3032 and the TreS-Pep2-GlgE pathways. We now show that alpha-glucan in mycobacteria is exclusively assembled intracellularly utilizing the building block alpha-maltose-1-phosphate as the substrate for the maltosyltransferase GlgE, with subsequent branching of the polymer by the branching enzyme GlgB. Some alpha-glucan is exported to form the alpha-glucan capsule. There is an unexpected convergence of the TreS-Pep2 and GlgC-GlgA pathways that both generate alpha-maltose-1-phosphate. While the TreS-Pep2 route from trehalose was already known, we have now established that GlgA forms this phosphosugar from ADP-glucose and glucose 1-phosphate 1000-fold more efficiently than its hitherto described glycogen synthase activity. The two routes are connected by the common precursor ADP-glucose, allowing compensatory flux from one route to the other. Having elucidated this unexpected configuration of the metabolic pathways underlying alpha-glucan biosynthesis in mycobacteria, an M. tuberculosis double mutant devoid of alpha-glucan could be constructed, showing a direct link between the GlgE pathway, alpha-glucan biosynthesis and virulence in a mouse infection model.