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1.  Interplay of the Serine/Threonine-Kinase StkP and the Paralogs DivIVA and GpsB in Pneumococcal Cell Elongation and Division 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004275.
Despite years of intensive research, much remains to be discovered to understand the regulatory networks coordinating bacterial cell growth and division. The mechanisms by which Streptococcus pneumoniae achieves its characteristic ellipsoid-cell shape remain largely unknown. In this study, we analyzed the interplay of the cell division paralogs DivIVA and GpsB with the ser/thr kinase StkP. We observed that the deletion of divIVA hindered cell elongation and resulted in cell shortening and rounding. By contrast, the absence of GpsB resulted in hampered cell division and triggered cell elongation. Remarkably, ΔgpsB elongated cells exhibited a helical FtsZ pattern instead of a Z-ring, accompanied by helical patterns for DivIVA and peptidoglycan synthesis. Strikingly, divIVA deletion suppressed the elongated phenotype of ΔgpsB cells. These data suggest that DivIVA promotes cell elongation and that GpsB counteracts it. Analysis of protein-protein interactions revealed that GpsB and DivIVA do not interact with FtsZ but with the cell division protein EzrA, which itself interacts with FtsZ. In addition, GpsB interacts directly with DivIVA. These results are consistent with DivIVA and GpsB acting as a molecular switch to orchestrate peripheral and septal PG synthesis and connecting them with the Z-ring via EzrA. The cellular co-localization of the transpeptidases PBP2x and PBP2b as well as the lipid-flippases FtsW and RodA in ΔgpsB cells further suggest the existence of a single large PG assembly complex. Finally, we show that GpsB is required for septal localization and kinase activity of StkP, and therefore for StkP-dependent phosphorylation of DivIVA. Altogether, we propose that the StkP/DivIVA/GpsB triad finely tunes the two modes of peptidoglycan (peripheral and septal) synthesis responsible for the pneumococcal ellipsoid cell shape.
Author Summary
Over the last decade, bacterial genomics have revealed the presence of eukaryotic-type serine/threonine protein kinases (STKPs) in many bacteria. However, their role and mode of action is still elusive. Recent studies have suggested that STKPs could play an important role in regulating cell division of some bacterial species but the underlying regulatory mechanisms are largely unknown. Considering that much remains to be discovered about the mechanisms by which the cell division machinery is assembled at the cell center and how the diversity of bacterial cell shapes is achieved and maintained, studying the role of STKPs represents a promising approach to decipher the inner workings of bacterial cell division. In this article, we show that the ser/thr-kinase StkP and the two cell division paralogs GpsB and DivIVA of Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) work together to finely tune peptidoglycan synthesis and achieve proper cell shape and division. We discuss the likelihood that similar mechanisms occur in other bacteria requiring protein-kinases for the cell division process. We propose that the interplay between protein-kinases and cell-division proteins like GpsB or DivIVA is of crucial importance to satisfy the modes of cell division and the cell shape displayed by streptococci and other bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3983041  PMID: 24722178
2.  Genome-Scale Analysis of Mycoplasma agalactiae Loci Involved in Interaction with Host Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25291.
Mycoplasma agalactiae is an important pathogen of small ruminants, in which it causes contagious agalactia. It belongs to a large group of “minimal bacteria” with a small genome and reduced metabolic capacities that are dependent on their host for nutrients. Mycoplasma survival thus relies on intimate contact with host cells, but little is known about the factors involved in these interactions or in the more general infectious process. To address this issue, an assay based on goat epithelial and fibroblastic cells was used to screen a M. agalactiae knockout mutant library. Mutants with reduced growth capacities in cell culture were selected and 62 genomic loci were identified as contributing to this phenotype. As expected for minimal bacteria, “transport and metabolism” was the functional category most commonly implicated in this phenotype, but 50% of the selected mutants were disrupted in coding sequences (CDSs) with unknown functions, with surface lipoproteins being most commonly represented in this category. Since mycoplasmas lack a cell wall, lipoproteins are likely to be important in interactions with the host. A few intergenic regions were also identified that may act as regulatory sequences under co-culture conditions. Interestingly, some mutants mapped to gene clusters that are highly conserved across mycoplasma species but located in different positions. One of these clusters was found in a transcriptionally active region of the M. agalactiae chromosome, downstream of a cryptic promoter. A possible scenario for the evolution of these loci is discussed. Finally, several CDSs identified here are conserved in other important pathogenic mycoplasmas, and some were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant species. These results provide a basis for further deciphering functions mediating mycoplasma-host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3179502  PMID: 21966487
3.  Critical Role of Dispensable Genes in Mycoplasma agalactiae Interaction with Mammalian Cells▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(4):1542-1551.
Mycoplasmas are minimal bacteria whose genomes barely exceed the smallest amount of information required to sustain autonomous life. Despite this apparent simplicity, several mycoplasmas are successful pathogens of humans and animals, in which they establish intimate interactions with epithelial cells at mucosal surfaces. To identify biological functions mediating mycoplasma interactions with mammalian cells, we produced a library of transposon knockout mutants in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae and used this library to identify mutants displaying a growth-deficient pheonotype in cell culture. M. agalactiae mutants displaying a 3-fold reduction in CFU titers to nearly complete extinction in coculture with HeLa cells were identified. Mapping of transposon insertion sites revealed 18 genomic regions putatively involved in the interaction of M. agalactiae with HeLa cells. Several of these regions encode proteins with features of membrane lipoproteins and/or were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant pathogenic mycoplasmas of ruminants. Two mutants with the most extreme phenotype carry a transposon in a genomic region designated the NIF locus which encodes homologues of SufS and SufU, two proteins presumably involved in [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis in Gram-positive bacteria. Complementation studies confirmed the conditional essentiality of the NIF locus, which was found to be critical for proliferation in the presence of HeLa cells and several other mammalian cell lines but dispensable for axenic growth. While our results raised questions regarding essential functions in mycoplasmas, they also provide a means for studying the role of mycoplasmas as minimal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2849427  PMID: 20123713
4.  A glutamine-amidotransferase-like protein modulates FixT anti-kinase activity in Sinorhizobium meliloti 
BMC Microbiology  2001;1:6.
Nitrogen fixation gene expression in Sinorhizobium meliloti, the alfalfa symbiont, depends on a cascade of regulation that involves both positive and negative control. On top of the cascade, the two-component regulatory system FixLJ is activated under the microoxic conditions of the nodule. In addition, activity of the FixLJ system is inhibited by a specific anti-kinase protein, FixT. The physiological significance of this negative regulation by FixT was so far unknown.
We have isolated by random Tn5 mutagenesis a S. meliloti mutant strain that escapes repression by FixT. Complementation test and DNA analysis revealed that inactivation of an asparagine synthetase-like gene was responsible for the phenotype of the mutant. This gene, that was named asnO, encodes a protein homologous to glutamine-dependent asparagine synthetases. The asnO gene did not appear to affect asparagine biosynthesis and may instead serve a regulatory function in S. meliloti. We provide evidence that asnO is active during symbiosis .
Isolation of the asnO mutant argues for the existence of a physiological regulation associated with fixT and makes it unlikely that fixT serves a mere homeostatic function in S. meliloti. Our data suggest that asnO might control activity of the FixT protein, in a way that remains to be elucidated. A proposed role for asnO might be to couple nitrogen fixation gene expression in S. meliloti to the nitrogen needs of the cells.
PMCID: PMC32199  PMID: 11389771

Results 1-4 (4)