Cellular metabolism converts available nutrients into usable energy and biomass precursors. The process is regulated to facilitate efficient nutrient use and metabolic homeostasis. Feedback inhibition of the first committed step of a pathway by its final product is a classical means of controlling biosynthesis. In a canonical example, the first committed enzyme in the pyrimidine pathway in Escherichia coli is allosterically inhibited by cytidine triphosphate. The physiological consequences of disrupting this regulation, however, have not been previously explored. Here we identify an alternative regulatory strategy that enables precise control of pyrimidine pathway end-product levels, even in the presence of dysregulated biosynthetic flux. The mechanism involves cooperative feedback regulation of the near-terminal pathway enzyme uridine monophosphate kinase. Such feedback leads to build-up of the pathway intermediate uridine monophosphate, which is in turn degraded by a conserved phosphatase, here termed UmpH, with previously unknown physiological function. Such directed overflow metabolism allows homeostasis of uridine triphosphate and cytidine triphosphate levels at the expense of uracil excretion and slower growth during energy limitation. Disruption of the directed overflow regulatory mechanism impairs growth in pyrimidine-rich environments. Thus, pyrimidine homeostasis involves dual regulatory strategies, with classical feedback inhibition enhancing metabolic efficiency and directed overflow metabolism ensuring end-product homeostasis.
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