Hydrolysis of urea by Ureaplasma urealyticum generates a transmembrane potential with resultant ATP synthesis

David George Emslie Smith, William C. Russell, W. J. Ingledew, David Thirkell

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When urea is added to Ureaplasma urealyticum, it is hydrolysed internally by a cytosolic urease. Under our measuring conditions, and at an external pH of 6.0, urea hydrolysis caused an ammonia chemical potential equivalent to almost 80 mV and, simultaneously, an increase in proton electrochemical potential (delta p) of about 24 mV with resultant de novo ATP synthesis. Inhibition of the urease with the potent inhibitor flurofamide abolished both the chemical potential and the increase of delta p such that ATP synthesis was reduced to approximately 5% of normally obtained levels. Uncouplers of electrochemical gradients had little or no effect on these systems. The electrochemical parameters and ATP synthesis were measured similarly at three other external pH values. Any change in delta p was primarily via membrane potential (delta psi), and the level of de novo ATP synthesis was related to the increase in delta p generated upon addition of urea and more closely to the ammonia chemical potential. Although the organisms lack an effective mechanism for internal pH homeostasis, they maintained a constant delta pH. The data reported are consistent with, and give evidence for, the direct involvement of a chemiosmotic mechanism in the generation of around 95% of the ATP by this organism. Furthermore, the data suggest that the ATP-generating system is coupled to urea hydrolysis by the cytosolic urease via an ammonia chemical potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3253-3258
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1993


  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Ammonia
  • Benzamides
  • Cytoplasm
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrolysis
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Urea
  • Ureaplasma urealyticum
  • Urease
  • Water


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