Myxococcus xanthus, a Gram-negative soil bacterium, undergoes multicellular development when nutrients become limiting. Aggregation, which is part of the developmental process, requires the surface motility of this organism. One component of M. xanthus motility, the social (S) gliding motility, enables the movement of cells in close physical proximity. Previous studies demonstrated that the cell-surface associated exopolysaccharide (EPS) is essential for S motility and the Dif proteins form a chemotaxis-like pathway that regulates EPS production in M. xanthus. DifA, a homologue of methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs) in the Dif system, is required for EPS production, S motility and development. In this study, a spontaneous extragenic suppressor of a difA deletion was isolated in order to identify additional regulators of EPS production. The suppressor mutation was found to be a single base-pair insertion in cheW7 at the che7 chemotaxis gene cluster. Further examination indicated that mutations in cheW7 may lead to the interaction of Mcp7 with DifC (CheW-like) and DifE (CheA-like) to reconstruct a functional pathway to regulate EPS production in the absence of DifA. In addition, the cheW7 mutation was found to partially suppress a pilA mutation in EPS production in a difA+ background. Further deletion of difA from the pilA cheW7 double mutant resulted in a triple mutant that produced wild-type levels of EPS, implying that DifA (MCP-like) and Mcp7 compete for interactions with DifC and DifE in the modulation of EPS production.
Myxococcus xanthus social gliding motility, which is powered by type IV pili, requires the presence of exopolysaccharides (EPS) on the cell surface. The Dif chemosensory system is essential for the regulation of EPS production. It was demonstrated previously that DifA (methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein [MCP]-like), DifC (CheW-like), and DifE (CheA-like) stimulate whereas DifD (CheY-like) and DifG (CheC-like) inhibit EPS production. DifD was found not to function downstream of DifE in EPS regulation, as a difD difE double mutant phenocopied the difE single mutant. It has been proposed that DifA, DifC, and DifE form a ternary signaling complex that positively regulates EPS production through the kinase activity of DifE. DifD was proposed as a phosphate sink of phosphorylated DifE (DifE∼P), while DifG would augment the function of DifD as a phosphatase of phosphorylated DifD (DifD∼P). Here we report in vitro phosphorylation studies with all the Dif chemosensory proteins that were expressed and purified from Escherichia coli. DifE was demonstrated to be an autokinase. Consistent with the formation of a DifA-DifC-DifE complex, DifA and DifC together, but not individually, were found to influence DifE autophosphorylation. DifD, which did not inhibit DifE autophosphorylation directly, was found to accept phosphate from autophosphorylated DifE. While DifD∼P has an unusually long half-life for dephosphorylation in vitro, DifG efficiently dephosphorylated DifD∼P as a phosphatase. These results support a model where DifE complexes with DifA and DifC to regulate EPS production through phosphorylation of a downstream target, while DifD and DifG function synergistically to divert phosphates away from DifE∼P.
In bacteria with multiple sets of chemotaxis genes, the deletion of homologous genes or even different genes in the same operon can result in disparate phenotypes. Myxococcus xanthus is a bacterium with multiple sets of chemotaxis genes and/or homologues. It was shown previously that difA and difE, encoding homologues of the methyl-accepting chemoreceptor protein (MCP) and the CheA kinase, respectively, are required for M. xanthus social gliding (S) motility and development. Both difA and difE mutants were also defective in the biogenesis of the cell surface appendages known as extracellular matrix fibrils. In this study, we investigated the roles of the CheW homologue encoded by difC, a gene at the same locus as difA and difE. We showed that difC mutations resulted in defects in M. xanthus developmental aggregation, sporulation, and S motility. We demonstrated that difC is indispensable for wild-type cellular cohesion and fibril biogenesis but not for pilus production. We further illustrated the ectopic complementation of a difC in-frame deletion by a wild-type difC. The identical phenotypes of difA, difC, and difE mutants are consistent and supportive of the hypothesis that the Dif chemotaxis homologues constitute a chemotaxis-like signal transduction pathway that regulates M. xanthus fibril biogenesis and S motility.
The extracellular matrix fibrils of Myxococcus xanthus are essential for the social lifestyle of this unusual bacterium. These fibrils form networks linking or encasing cells and are tightly correlated with cellular cohesion, development, and social (S) gliding motility. Previous studies identified a set of bacterial chemotaxis homologs encoded by the dif locus. It was determined that difA, difC, and difE, encoding respective homologs of a methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein, CheW, and CheA, are required for fibril production and therefore S motility and development. Here we report the studies of three additional genes residing at the dif locus, difB, difD, and difG. difD and difG encode homologs of chemotaxis proteins CheY and CheC, respectively. difB encodes a positively charged protein with limited homology at its N terminus to conserved bacterial proteins with unknown functions. Unlike the previously characterized dif genes, none of these three newly studied dif genes are essential for fibril production, S motility, or development. The difB mutant showed no obvious defects in any of the processes examined. In contrast, the difD and the difG mutants were observed to overproduce fibril polysaccharides in comparison with production by the wild type. The observation that DifD and DifG negatively regulate fibril polysaccharide production strengthens our hypothesis that the M. xanthus dif genes define a chemotaxis-like signal transduction pathway which regulates fibril biogenesis. To our knowledge, this is the first report of functional studies of a CheC homolog in proteobacteria. In addition, during this study, we slightly modified previously developed assays to easily quantify fibril polysaccharide production in M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus fibril exopolysaccharide (EPS), essential for the social gliding motility and development of this bacterium, is regulated by the Dif chemotaxis-like pathway. DifA, an MCP homolog, is proposed to mediate signal input to the Dif pathway. However, DifA lacks a prominent periplasmic domain, which in classical chemoreceptors is responsible for signal perception and for initiating transmembrane signaling. To investigate the signaling properties of DifA, we constructed a NarX-DifA (NafA) chimera from the sensory module of Escherichia coli NarX and the signaling module of M. xanthus DifA. We report here the first functional chimeric signal transducer constructed using genes from organisms in two different phylogenetic subdivisions. When expressed in M. xanthus, NafA restored fruiting body formation, EPS production, and S-motility to difA mutants in the presence of nitrate. Studies with various double mutants indicate that NafA requires the downstream Dif proteins to function. We propose that signal inputs to the Dif pathway and transmembrane signaling by DifA are essential for the regulation of EPS production in M. xanthus. Despite the apparent structural differences, DifA appears to share similar transmembrane signaling mechanisms with enteric sensor kinases and chemoreceptors.
DifA is a methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein (MCP)-like sensory transducer that regulates exopolysaccharide (EPS) production in Myxococcus xanthus. Here mutational analysis and molecular biology were used to probe the signaling mechanisms of DifA in EPS regulation. We first identified the start codon of DifA experimentally; this identification extended the N terminus of DifA for 45 amino acids (aa) from the previous bioinformatics prediction. This extension helped to address the outstanding question of how DifA receives input signals from type 4 pili without a prominent periplasmic domain. The results suggest that DifA uses its N-terminus extension to sense an upstream signal in EPS regulation. We suggest that the perception of the input signal by DifA is mediated by protein-protein interactions with upstream components. Subsequent signal transmission likely involves transmembrane signaling instead of direct intramolecular interactions between the input and the output modules in the cytoplasm. The basic functional unit of DifA for signal transduction is likely dimeric as mutational alteration of the predicted dimeric interface of DifA significantly affected EPS production. Deletions of 14-aa segments in the C terminus suggest that the newly defined flexible bundle subdomain in MCPs is likely critical for DifA function because shortening of this bundle can lead to constitutively active mutations.
Myxococcus xanthus social (S) gliding motility has been previously reported by us to require the chemotaxis homologues encoded by the dif genes. In addition, two cell surface structures, type IV pili and extracellular matrix fibrils, are also critical to M. xanthus S motility. We have demonstrated here that M. xanthus dif genes are required for the biogenesis of fibrils but not for that of type IV pili. Furthermore, the developmental defects of dif mutants can be partially rescued by the addition of isolated fibril materials. Along with the chemotaxis genes of various swarming bacteria and the pilGHIJ genes of the twitching bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the M. xanthus dif genes belong to a unique class of bacterial chemotaxis genes or homologues implicated in the biogenesis of structures required for bacterial surface locomotion. Genetic studies indicate that the dif genes are linked to the M. xanthus dsp region, a locus known to be crucial for M. xanthus fibril biogenesis and S gliding.
Dif and Frz, two Myxococcus xanthus chemosensory pathways, are required in phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) chemotaxis for excitation and adaptation, respectively. DifA and FrzCD, the homologs of methyl-accepting chemoreceptors in the two pathways, were examined for methylation in the context of chemotaxis and inter-pathway interactions. Evidence indicates that DifA may not undergo methylation but signals transmitting through DifA do modulate FrzCD methylation. Results also revealed that M. xanthus possesses Dif-dependent and Dif-independent PE sensing mechanisms. Previous studies showed that FrzCD methylation is decreased by negative chemostimuli but increased by attractants such as PE. Results here demonstrate that the Dif-dependent sensory mechanism suppresses the increase in FrzCD methylation in attractant response and elevates FrzCD methylation upon negative stimulation. In other words, FrzCD methylation is governed by opposing forces from Dif-dependent and Dif-independent sensing mechanisms. We propose that the Dif-independent but Frz-dependent PE sensing leads to increases in FrzCD methylation and subsequent adaptation, while the Dif-dependent PE signaling suppresses or diminishes the increase in FrzCD methylation to decelerate or delay adaptation. We contend that these antagonistic interactions are crucial for effective chemotaxis in this gliding bacterium to ensure that adaptation does not occur too quickly relative to the slow speed of M. xanthus movement.
Myxococcus xanthus; DifA and FrzCD methylation; chemotaxis; phosphatidylethanolamine (PE); exopolysaccharide (EPS)
Myxococcus xanthus moves on solid surfaces by using two gliding motility systems, A motility for individual-cell movement and S motility for coordinated group movements. The frz genes encode chemotaxis homologues that control the cellular reversal frequency of both motility systems. One of the components of the core Frz signal transduction pathway, FrzE, is homologous to both CheA and CheY from the enteric bacteria and is therefore a novel CheA-CheY fusion protein. In this study, we investigated the role of this fusion protein, in particular, the CheY domain (FrzECheY). FrzECheY retains all of the highly conserved residues of the CheY superfamily of response regulators, including Asp709, analogous to phosphoaccepting Asp57 of Escherichia coli CheY. While in-frame deletion of the entire frzE gene caused both motility systems to show a hyporeversal phenotype, in-frame deletion of the FrzECheY domain resulted in divergent phenotypes for the two motility systems: hyperreversals of the A-motility system and hyporeversals of the S-motility system. To further investigate the role of FrzECheY in A and S motility, point mutations were constructed such that the putative phosphoaccepting residue, Asp709, was changed from D to A (and was therefore never subject to phosphorylation) or E (possibly mimicking constitutive phosphorylation). The D709A mutant showed hyperreversals for both motilities, while the D709E mutant showed hyperreversals for A motility and hyporeversal for S motility. These results show that the FrzECheY domain plays a critical signaling role in coordinating A and S motility. On the basis of the phenotypic analyses of the frzE mutants generated in this study, a model is proposed for the divergent signal transduction through FrzE in controlling and coordinating A and S motility in M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus is a bacterium that moves by gliding motility and exhibits multicellular development (fruiting body formation). The frizzy (frz) mutants aggregate aberrantly and therefore fail to form fruiting bodies. Individual frz cells cannot control the frequency at which they reverse direction while gliding. Previously, FrzCD was shown to exhibit significant sequence similarity to the enteric methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins. In this report, we show that FrzCD is modified by methylation and that frzF encodes the methyltransferase. We also identify a new gene, frzG, whose predicted product is homologous to that of the cheB (methylesterase) gene from Escherichia coli. Thus, although M. xanthus is unflagellated, it appears to have a sensory transduction system which is similar in many of its components to those found in flagellated bacteria.
Myxococcus xanthus serves as a model organism for development and complex signal transduction. Regulation of developmental aggregation and sporulation is controlled, in part, by the Che3 chemosensory system. The Che3 pathway consists of homologs to two methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs), CheA, CheW, CheB, and CheR but not CheY. Instead, the output for Che3 is the NtrC homolog CrdA, which functions to regulate developmental gene expression. In this paper we have identified an additional kinase, CrdS, which directly regulates the phosphorylation state of CrdA. Both epistasis and in vitro phosphotransfer assays indicate that CrdS functions as part of the Che3 pathway and, in addition to CheA3, serves to regulate CrdA phosphorylation in M. xanthus. We provide kinetic data for CrdS autophosphorylation and demonstrate specificity for phosphotransfer from CrdS to CrdA. We further demonstrate that CheA3 destabilizes phosphorylated CrdA (CrdA~P), indicating that CheA3 likely acts as a phosphatase. Both CrdS and CheA3 control developmental progression by regulating the phosphorylation state of CrdA~P in the cell. These results support a model in which a classical two-component system and a chemosensory system act synergistically to control the activity of the response regulator CrdA.
While phosphorylation-mediated signal transduction is well understood in prototypical chemotaxis and two-component systems (TCS), chemosensory regulation of alternative cellular functions (ACF) has not been clearly defined. The Che3 system in Myxococcus xanthus is a member of the ACF class of chemosensory systems and regulates development via the transcription factor CrdA (chemosensory regulator of development) (K. Wuichet and I. B. Zhulin, Sci. Signal. 3:ra50, 2010; J. R. Kirby and D. R. Zusman, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100:2008–2013, 2003). We have identified and characterized a homolog of NtrB, designated CrdS, capable of specifically phosphorylating the NtrC homolog CrdA in M. xanthus. Additionally, we demonstrate that the CrdSA two-component system is negatively regulated by CheA3, the central processor within the Che3 system of M. xanthus. To our knowledge, this study provides the first example of an ACF chemosensory system regulating a prototypical two-component system and extends our understanding of complex regulation of developmental signaling pathways.
Myxococcus xanthus, a nonflagellated gliding bacterium, exhibits multicellular behavior during vegetative growth and fruiting body formation. The frizzy (frz) genes are required to control directed motility for these interactions. The frz genes encode proteins that are homologous to all of the major enteric chemotaxis proteins, with the exception of CheZ. In this study, we characterized FrzCD, a protein which is homologous to the methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins from the enteric bacteria. FrzCD, unlike the other methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins, was found to be localized primarily in the cytoplasmic fraction of cells. FrzCD migrates as a ladder of bands on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, reflecting heterogeneity due to methylation or demethylation and to deamidation. FrzCD was shown to be methylated in vivo when cells were exposed to yeast extract or Casitone and demethylated when starved in buffer. We used the methylation state of FrzCD as revealed by Western blot (immunoblot) analyses to search for stimuli that are recognized by the frz signal transduction system. Common amino acids, nucleotides, vitamins, and sugars were not recognized, but certain lipids and alcohols were recognized. For example, the saturated fatty acids capric acid and lauric acid stimulated FrzCD methylation, whereas a variety of other saturated fatty acids did not. Lauryl alcohol and lipoic acid also stimulated methylation, as did phospholipids containing lauric acid. In contrast, several short-chain alcohols, such as isoamyl alcohol, and some other solvents caused demethylation. The relatively high concentrations of the chemicals required for a response may indicate that these chemicals are not the relevant signals recognized by M. xanthus in nature. Isoamyl alcohol and isopropanol also had profound effects on the behavior of wild-type cells, causing them to reverse continuously. Cells of frzB, frzF, and frzG mutants also reversed continuously in the presence of isoamyl alcohol, whereas cells of frzA, frzCD, or frzE mutants did not. On the basis of the data presented, we propose a model for the frz signal transduction pathway in M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative bacterium capable of complex developmental processes involving vegetative swarming and fruiting body formation. Social (S-) gliding motility, one of the two motility systems employed by M. xanthus, requires at least two cell surface structures: type IV pili (TFP) and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS). Extended TFP which are composed of thousands of copies of PilA retract upon binding to EPS and thereby pull the cell forward. TFP also act as external sensor to regulate EPS production. In this study, we generated a random PilA mutant library and identified one derivative, SW1066, which completely failed to undergo developmental processes. Detailed characterization revealed that SW1066 produced very little EPS but wild-type amounts of PilA. These mutated PilA subunits, however, are unable to assemble into functional TFP despite their ability to localize to the membrane. By preventing the mutated PilA of SW1066 to translocate from the cytoplasm to the membrane, fruiting body formation and EPS production was restored to the levels observed in mutant strains lacking PilA. This apparent connection between PilA membrane accumulation and reduction in surface EPS implies that specific cellular PilA localization are required to maintain the EPS level necessary to sustain normal S-motilityin M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus; type four pili; PilA; extracellular polysaccharide
Bacterial gliding motility is the smooth movement of cells on solid surfaces unaided by flagella or pili. Many diverse groups of bacteria exhibit gliding, but the mechanism of gliding motility has remained a mystery since it was first observed more than a century ago. Recent studies on the motility of Myxococcus xanthus, a soil myxobacterium, suggest a likely mechanism for gliding in this organism. About forty M. xanthus genes were shown to be involved in gliding motility, and some of their protein products were labeled and localized within cells. These studies suggest that gliding motility in M. xanthus involves large multiprotein structural complexes, regulatory proteins, and cytoskeletal filaments. In this review, we summarize recent experiments that provide the basis for this emerging view of M. xanthus motility. We also discuss alternative models for gliding.
Myxococcus xanthus; proton motive force; cytoskeleton; protein localization; model
Myxococcus xanthus is a gliding bacterium with a complex life cycle that includes swarming, predation, and fruiting body formation. Directed movements in M. xanthus are regulated by the Frz chemosensory system, which controls cell reversals. The Frz pathway requires the activity of FrzCD, a cytoplasmic methyl accepting chemotaxis protein (MCP), and FrzF, a methyltransferase (CheR) containing an additional domain with three tetra trico-peptide repeats (TPRs). To investigate the role of the TPRs in FrzCD methylation, we used full-length FrzF and FrzF lacking its TPRs (FrzFCheR) to methylate FrzCD in vitro. FrzF methylated FrzCD on a single residue, E182, while FrzFCheR methylated FrzCD on three residues, E168, E175, and E182, indicating that the TPRs regulate site-specific methylation. E168 and E182 were predicted consensus methylation sites, but E175 is methylated on an HE pair. To determine the roles of these sites in vivo, we substituted each methylatable glutamate with either an aspartate or an alanine residue and determined the impact of the point mutants on single cell reversals, swarming and fruiting body formation. Single, double, and triple methylation site mutants revealed that each site played a unique role in M. xanthus behavior and that the pattern of receptor methylation determined receptor activity. This work also shows that methylation can both activate and inactivate the receptor.
Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative soil bacterium which exhibits a complex life cycle and social behavior. In this study, two developmental mutants of M. xanthus were isolated through Tn5 transposon mutagenesis. The mutants were found to be defective in cellular aggregation as well as in sporulation. Further phenotypic characterization indicated that the mutants were defective in social motility but normal in directed cell movements. Both mutations were cloned by a transposon-tagging method. Sequence analysis indicated that both insertions occurred in the same gene, which encodes a homolog of DnaK. Unlike the dnaK genes in other bacteria, this M. xanthus homolog appears not to be regulated by temperature or heat shock and is constitutively expressed during vegetative growth and under starvation. The defects of the mutants indicate that this DnaK homolog is important for the social motility and development of M. xanthus.
The soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is a model for the study of cooperative microbial behaviours such as social motility and fruiting body formation. Several M. xanthus developmental traits that are frequently quantified for laboratory strains are likely to be significant components of fitness in natural populations, yet little is known about the degree such traits vary in the wild and may therefore be subject to natural selection. Here we have tested whether several key M. xanthus developmental life-history traits have diverged significantly among strains both from globally distant origins and from within a sympatric, cm-scale population. The isolates examined here were found to vary greatly, in a heritable manner, in their rate of developmental aggregation and in both their rate and efficiency of spore production. Isolates also varied in the nutrient concentration threshold triggering spore formation and in the heat resistance of spores. The extensive diversity in developmental phenotypes documented here opens questions regarding the relative roles of selection and genetic drift in shaping the diversity of local soil populations with respect to these developmental traits. It also raises the question whether fitness in the wild is largely determined by traits that are expressed independently of social context or by behaviors that are expressed only in genetically heterogeneous social groups.
social evolution; intra-specific variation; soil bacteria; fruiting bodies; multicellular development
Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative bacterium which has a complex life cycle. Autochemotaxis, a process whereby cells release a self-generated signaling molecule, may be the principal mechanism facilitating directed motility in both the vegetative swarming and developmental aggregation stages of this life cycle. The process requires the Frz signal transduction system, including FrzZ, a protein which is composed of two domains, both showing homology to the enteric chemotaxis response regulator CheY. The first domain of FrzZ (FrzZ1), when expressed as bait in the yeast two-hybrid system and screened against a library, was shown to potentially interact with the C-terminal portion of a protein encoding an ATP-binding cassette (AbcA). The activation domain-AbcA fusion protein did not interact with the second domain of FrzZ (FrzZ2) or with two other M. xanthus response regulator-containing proteins presented as bait, suggesting that the FrzZ1-AbcA interaction may be specific. Cloning and sequencing of the upstream region of the abcA gene showed the ATP-binding cassette to be linked to a large hydrophobic, potentially membrane-spanning domain. This domain organization is characteristic of a subgroup of ABC transporters which perform export functions. Cloning and sequencing downstream of abcA indicated that the ABC transporter is at the start of an operon containing three open reading frames. An insertion mutation in the abcA gene resulted in cells displaying the frizzy aggregation phenotype, providing additional evidence that FrzZ and AbcA may be part of the same signal transduction pathway. Cells with mutations in genes downstream of abcA showed no developmental defects. Analysis of the proposed exporter role of AbcA in cell mixing experiments showed that the ABC transporter mutant could be rescued by extracellular complementation. We speculate that the AbcA protein may be involved in the export of a molecule required for the autochemotactic process.
Myxococcus xanthus is a common soil bacterium with an intricate multicellular lifestyle that continues to challenge the way in which we conceptualize the capabilities of prokaryotic organisms. M. xanthus is the preferred laboratory representative from the Myxobacteria, a family of organisms distinguished by their ability to form highly structured biofilms that include tentacle-like packs of surface-gliding cell groups, synchronized rippling waves of oscillating cells and massive spore-filled aggregates that protrude up from the substratum to form fruiting bodies. But most of the Myxobacteria are also predators that thrive on the degradation of macromolecules released through the lysis of other microbial cells. The aim of this review is to examine our understanding of the predatory life cycle of M. xanthus. We will examine the multicellular structures formed during contact with prey, and the molecular mechanisms utilized by M. xanthus to detect and destroy prey cells. We will also examine our understanding of microbial predator-prey relationships and the prospects for how bacterial predation mechanisms can be exploited to generate new anti-microbial technologies.
antibiotics; multi-drug resistance; predation; chemotaxis; predataxis
Social motility (S motility), the coordinated movement of large cell groups
on agar surfaces, of Myxococcus xanthus requires type IV
pili (TFP) and exopolysaccharides (EPS). Previous models proposed that this
behavior, which only occurred within cell groups, requires cycles of TFP extension
and retraction triggered by the close interaction of TFP with EPS. However,
the curious observation that M. xanthus can perform TFP-dependent
motility at a single-cell level when placed onto polystyrene surfaces in a
highly viscous medium containing 1% methylcellulose indicated that “S
motility” is not limited to group movements. In an apparent further
challenge of the previous findings for S motility, mutants defective in EPS
production were found to perform TFP-dependent motility on polystyrene surface
in methylcellulose-containing medium. By exploring the interactions between
pilin and surface materials, we found that the binding of TFP onto polystyrene
surfaces eliminated the requirement for EPS in EPS- cells and thus
enabled TFP-dependent motility on a single cell level. However, the presence
of a general anchoring surface in a viscous environment could not substitute
for the role of cell surface EPS in group movement. Furthermore, EPS was found
to serve as a self-produced anchoring substrate that can be shed onto surfaces
to enable cells to conduct TFP-dependent motility regardless of surface properties.
These results suggested that in certain environments, such as in methylcellulose
solution, the cells could bypass the need for EPS to anchor their TPF and
conduct single-cell S motility to promote exploratory movement of colonies
over new specific surfaces.
Myxococcus xanthus exhibits multicellular interactions during vegetative growth and fruiting body formation. Gliding motility is needed for these interactions. The frizzy (frz) genes are required to control directed motility. FrzE is homologous to both CheA and CheY from Salmonella typhimurium. We used polyclonal antiserum raised against a fusion protein to detect FrzE in M. xanthus extracts by Western immunoblot analysis. FrzE was clearly present during vegetative growth and at much lower levels during development. A recombinant FrzE protein was overproduced in Escherichia coli, purified from inclusion bodies, and renatured. FrzE was autophosphorylated when it was incubated in the presence of [gamma-32P]ATP and MnCl2. Chemical analyses of the phosphorylated FrzE protein indicated that it contained an acylphosphate; probably phosphoaspartate. FrzE was phosphorylated in an intramolecular reaction. Based on these observations, we propose a model of the mechanism of FrzE phosphorylation in which autophosphorylation initially occurs at a conserved histidine residue within the "CheA" domain and then, via an intramolecular transphosphorylation, is transferred to a conserved aspartate residue within the "CheY" domain.
An agglutination assay was used to study cell cohesion in the myxobacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Vegetative cells agglutinated in the presence of the divalent cations Mg2+ and Ca2+. Agglutination was blocked by energy poisons that inhibit electron transport, uncouple oxidative phosphorylation, or inhibit the membrane-bound ATPase. However, energy was not required for the maintenance of cells in the multicellular aggregate. Cyanide, a strong inhibitor of agglutination, did not cause cells to dissociate from the aggregate even when shear forces were applied. While gliding motility was not necessary for agglutination, some gliding mutants exhibited aberrant agglutination that was generally correlated with cell behavior. Cells with an intact social motility system were cohesive and glided in large multicellular swarms. Cells with a mutation in their social motility system were 5- to 10-fold less cohesive and tended to glide as single cells. One group of social motility mutants, known as Dsp, did not agglutinate.
Gliding motility is observed in a large variety of phylogenetically unrelated bacteria. Gliding provides a means for microbes to travel in environments with a low water content, such as might be found in biofilms, microbial mats, and soil. Gliding is defined as the movement of a cell on a surface in the direction of the long axis of the cell. Because this definition is operational and not mechanistic, the underlying molecular motor(s) may be quite different in diverse microbes. In fact, studies on the gliding bacterium Myxococcus xanthus suggest that two independent gliding machineries, encoded by two multigene systems, operate in this microorganism. One machinery, which allows individual cells to glide on a surface, independent of whether the cells are moving alone or in groups, requires the function of the genes of the A-motility system. More than 37 A-motility genes are known to be required for this form of movement. Depending on an additional phenotype, these genes are divided into two subclasses, the agl and cgl genes. Videomicroscopic studies on gliding movement, as well as ultrastructural observations of two myxobacteria, suggest that the A-system motor may consist of multiple single motor elements that are arrayed along the entire cell body. Each motor element is proposed to be localized to the periplasmic space and to be anchored to the peptidoglycan layer. The force to glide which may be generated here is coupled to adhesion sites that move freely in the outer membrane. These adhesion sites provide a specific contact with the substratum. Based on single-cell observations, similar models have been proposed to operate in the unrelated gliding bacteria Flavobacterium johnsoniae (formerly Cytophaga johnsonae), Cytophaga strain U67, and Flexibacter polymorphus (a filamentous glider). Although this model has not been verified experimentally, M. xanthus seems to be the ideal organism with which to test it, given the genetic tools available. The second gliding motor in M. xanthus controls cell movement in groups (S-motility system). It is dependent on functional type IV pili and is operative only when cells are in close proximity to each other. Type IV pili are known to be involved in another mode of bacterial surface translocation, called twitching motility. S-motility may well represent a variation of twitching motility in M. xanthus. However, twitching differs from gliding since it involves cell movements that are jerky and abrupt and that lack the organization and smoothness observed in gliding. Components of this motor are encoded by genes of the S-system, which appear to be homologs of genes involved in the biosynthesis, assembly, and function of type IV pili in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. How type IV pili generate force in S-motility is currently unknown, but it is to be expected that ongoing physiological, genetic, and biochemical studies in M. xanthus, in conjunction with studies on twitching in P. aeruginosa and N. gonorrhoeae, will provide important insights into this microbial motor. The two motility systems of M. xanthus are affected to different degrees by the MglA protein, which shows similarity to a small GTPase. Bacterial chemotaxis-like sensory transduction systems control gliding motility in M. xanthus. The frz genes appear to regulate gliding movement of individual cells and movement by the S-motility system, suggesting that the two motors found in this bacterium can be regulated to result in coordinated multicellular movements. In contrast, the dif genes affect only S-system-dependent swarming.
Myxococcus xanthus is a gliding bacterium with a complex life cycle that includes swarming, predation and fruiting body formation. Directed movements in M. xanthus are regulated by the Frz chemosensory system, which controls cell reversals. The Frz pathway requires the activity of FrzCD, a cytoplasmic methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein, and FrzF, a methyltransferase (CheR) containing an additional domain with three tetra trico-peptide repeats (TPRs). To investigate the role of the TPRs in FrzCD methylation, we used full-length FrzF and FrzF lacking its TPRs (FrzFCheR) to methylate FrzCD in vitro. FrzF methylated FrzCD on a single residue, E182, while FrzFCheR methylated FrzCD on three residues, E168, E175 and E182, indicating that the TPRs regulate site-specific methylation. E168 and E182 were predicted consensus methylation sites, but E175 is methylated on an HE pair. To determine the roles of these sites in vivo, we substituted each methylatable glutamate with either an aspartate or an alanine residue and determined the impact of the point mutants on single cell reversals, swarming and fruiting body formation. Single, double and triple methylation site mutants revealed that each site played a unique role in M. xanthus behaviour and that the pattern of receptor methylation determined receptor activity. This work also shows that methylation can both activate and inactivate the receptor.
Formation of spatial patterns of cells is a recurring theme in biology and often depends on regulated cell motility. Motility of the rod-shaped cells of the bacterium Myxococcus xanthus depends on two motility machineries, type IV pili (giving rise to S-motility) and the gliding motility apparatus (giving rise to A-motility). Cell motility is regulated by occasional reversals. Moving M. xanthus cells can organize into spreading colonies or spore-filled fruiting bodies, depending on their nutritional status. To ultimately understand these two pattern-formation processes and the contributions by the two motility machineries, as well as the cell reversal machinery, we analyse spatial self-organization in three M. xanthus strains: (i) a mutant that moves unidirectionally without reversing by the A-motility system only, (ii) a unidirectional mutant that is also equipped with the S-motility system, and (iii) the wild-type that, in addition to the two motility systems, occasionally reverses its direction of movement. The mutant moving by means of the A-engine illustrates that collective motion in the form of large moving clusters can arise in gliding bacteria owing to steric interactions of the rod-shaped cells, without the need of invoking any biochemical signal regulation. The two-engine strain mutant reveals that the same phenomenon emerges when both motility systems are present, and as long as cells exhibit unidirectional motion only. From the study of these two strains, we conclude that unidirectional cell motion induces the formation of large moving clusters at low and intermediate densities, while it results in vortex formation at very high densities. These findings are consistent with what is known from self-propelled rod models, which strongly suggests that the combined effect of self-propulsion and volume exclusion interactions is the pattern-formation mechanism leading to the observed phenomena. On the other hand, we learn that when cells occasionally reverse their moving direction, as observed in the wild-type, cells form small but strongly elongated clusters and self-organize into a mesh-like structure at high enough densities. These results have been obtained from a careful analysis of the cluster statistics of ensembles of cells, and analysed in the light of a coagulation Smoluchowski equation with fragmentation.
collective migration; spatio-temporal pattern formation; self-organization