A cell-free system was established to study the biosynthesis of group C meningococcal capsular polysaccharide, an alpha-2 leads to 9-linked N-acetylneuraminic acid (NeuAc) homopolymer containing O-acetyl groups at either C7 or C8. Sialyltransferase activity, isolated from group C meningococcus strain C-11, catalyzed incorporation of [14C]NeuAc from CMP (CMP--[14C]NeuAc) into polymeric form. This sialyltransferase was stimulated by addition of meningococcus group C and Escherichia coli K92 capsular polysaccharides, the latter being an alpha-2 leads to 8- and alpha-2 leads to 9-linked NeuAc heteropolymer. Group C meningococcal sialyltransferase did not require divalent ions but was stimulated by Mn2+. Attempts to demonstrate a lipid-soluble intermediate in the biosynthesis of this NeuAc polymer were unsuccessful. Meningococcal group C sialyltransferase incorporated NeuAc into a membrane-associated product. The polysaccharide can be extracted from the membrane-bound fraction with Triton X-100. The newly synthesized polysaccharide coprecipitates with authentic group C antigen in meningococcal group C antiserum and is degraded by sodium metaperiodate, indicating that the NeuAc polymer synthesized by the cell-free system consists of alpha-2 leads to 9 linkage. Meningococcal group C spheroplast membranes contain an O-acetylase that can catalyze the transfer of acetyl groups from acetyl coenzyme A to the in vitro-synthesized polysaccharide
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