L-Fucose is a sugar present in human secretions as part of human milk oligosaccharides, mucins, and other glycoconjugates in the intestinal epithelium. The genome of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) carries a gene cluster encoding a putative L-fucose permease (fucP), L-fucose catabolic pathway (fucI, fucK, fucU, and fucA), and a transcriptional regulator (fucR). The metabolism of L-fucose in LGG results in 1,2-propanediol production, and their fucI and fucP mutants displayed a severe and mild growth defect on L-fucose, respectively. Transcriptional analysis revealed that the fuc genes are induced by L-fucose and subject to a strong carbon catabolite repression effect. This induction was triggered by FucR, which acted as a transcriptional activator necessary for growth on L-fucose. LGG utilized fucosyl-α1,3-N-acetylglucosamine and contrarily to other lactobacilli, the presence of fuc genes allowed this strain to use the L-fucose moiety. In fucI and fucR mutants, but not in fucP mutant, L-fucose was not metabolized and it was excreted to the medium during growth on fucosyl-α1,3-N-acetylglucosamine. The fuc genes were induced by this fucosyl-disaccharide in the wild type and the fucP mutant but not in a fucI mutant, showing that FucP does not participate in the regulation of fuc genes and that L-fucose metabolism is needed for FucR activation. The l-fucose operon characterized here constitutes a new example of the many factors found in LGG that allow this strain to adapt to the gastrointestinal conditions.
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