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1.  Cell wall structure and function in lactic acid bacteria 
Microbial Cell Factories  2014;13(Suppl 1):S9.
The cell wall of Gram-positive bacteria is a complex assemblage of glycopolymers and proteins. It consists of a thick peptidoglycan sacculus that surrounds the cytoplasmic membrane and that is decorated with teichoic acids, polysaccharides, and proteins. It plays a major role in bacterial physiology since it maintains cell shape and integrity during growth and division; in addition, it acts as the interface between the bacterium and its environment. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are traditionally and widely used to ferment food, and they are also the subject of more and more research because of their potential health-related benefits. It is now recognized that understanding the composition, structure, and properties of LAB cell walls is a crucial part of developing technological and health applications using these bacteria. In this review, we examine the different components of the Gram-positive cell wall: peptidoglycan, teichoic acids, polysaccharides, and proteins. We present recent findings regarding the structure and function of these complex compounds, results that have emerged thanks to the tandem development of structural analysis and whole genome sequencing. Although general structures and biosynthesis pathways are conserved among Gram-positive bacteria, studies have revealed that LAB cell walls demonstrate unique properties; these studies have yielded some notable, fundamental, and novel findings. Given the potential of this research to contribute to future applied strategies, in our discussion of the role played by cell wall components in LAB physiology, we pay special attention to the mechanisms controlling bacterial autolysis, bacterial sensitivity to bacteriophages and the mechanisms underlying interactions between probiotic bacteria and their hosts.
PMCID: PMC4155827  PMID: 25186919
Lactic acid bacteria; Cell wall; Peptidoglycan; Polysaccharide; Teichoic acid; Peptidoglycan hydrolase; Surface proteins; Autolysis; Bacteriophage; Probiotic; Bacteria-host cross-talk
2.  Isolation of Lactococcus lactis Mutants Simultaneously Resistant to the Cell Wall-Active Bacteriocin Lcn972, Lysozyme, Nisin, and Bacteriophage c2 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(12):4157-4163.
Lactococcin 972 (Lcn972) is a nonlantibiotic bacteriocin that inhibits cell wall biosynthesis by binding to lipid II. In this work, two mutants resistant to Lcn972, Lactococcus lactis D1 and D1-20, with high (>320 arbitrary units [AU]/ml) and low (80 AU/ml) susceptibilities, respectively, have been isolated. Resistance to Lcn972 did not impose a burden to growth under laboratory conditions, nor did it substantially alter the physicochemical properties of the cell surface. However, the peptidoglycan of the mutants featured a higher content of muropeptides with tripeptide side chains than the wild-type strain, linking for the first time peptidoglycan remodelling to bacteriocin resistance. Moreover, L. lactis lacking a functional d,d-carboxypeptidase DacA (i.e., with a high content of pentapeptide side chain muropeptides) was shown to be more susceptible to Lcn972. Cross-resistance to lysozyme and nisin and enhanced susceptibility to penicillin G and bacitracin was also observed. Intriguingly, the Lcn972-resistant mutants were not infected by the lytic phage c2 and less efficiently infected by phage sk1. Lack of c2 infectivity was linked to a 22.6-kbp chromosomal deletion encompassing the phage receptor protein gene pip. The deletion also included maltose metabolic genes and the two-component system (TCS) F. However, a clear correlation between these genes and resistance to Lcn972 could not be clearly established, pointing to the presence of as-yet-unidentified mutations that account for Lcn972 resistance.
PMCID: PMC3370530  PMID: 22504807
3.  Role of the Group B Antigen of Streptococcus agalactiae: A Peptidoglycan-Anchored Polysaccharide Involved in Cell Wall Biogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(6):e1002756.
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B streptococcus, GBS) is a leading cause of infections in neonates and an emerging pathogen in adults. The Lancefield Group B carbohydrate (GBC) is a peptidoglycan-anchored antigen that defines this species as a Group B Streptococcus. Despite earlier immunological and biochemical characterizations, the function of this abundant glycopolymer has never been addressed experimentally. Here, we inactivated the gene gbcO encoding a putative UDP-N-acetylglucosamine-1-phosphate:lipid phosphate transferase thought to catalyze the first step of GBC synthesis. Indeed, the gbcO mutant was unable to synthesize the GBC polymer, and displayed an important growth defect in vitro. Electron microscopy study of the GBC-depleted strain of S. agalactiae revealed a series of growth-related abnormalities: random placement of septa, defective cell division and separation processes, and aberrant cell morphology. Furthermore, vancomycin labeling and peptidoglycan structure analysis demonstrated that, in the absence of GBC, cells failed to initiate normal PG synthesis and cannot complete polymerization of the murein sacculus. Finally, the subcellular localization of the PG hydrolase PcsB, which has a critical role in cell division of streptococci, was altered in the gbcO mutant. Collectively, these findings show that GBC is an essential component of the cell wall of S. agalactiae whose function is reminiscent of that of conventional wall teichoic acids found in Staphylococcus aureus or Bacillus subtilis. Furthermore, our findings raise the possibility that GBC-like molecules play a major role in the growth of most if not all beta –hemolytic streptococci.
Author Summary
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus) is a leading cause of sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis (brain infection) in newborns and in adults with underlying diseases. S. agalactiae is a Gram-positive coccus surrounded by a thick cell wall that acts as an exoskeleton to guarantee resistance to mechanical stresses and maintenance of cell shape. Understanding the organization and the functioning of the cell wall is very important as this cellular compartment is essential to bacterial physiology and the target of many antibiotics. In this report, we have discovered the first gene gbcO involved in the synthesis of an abundant polysaccharide anchored to the peptidoglycan known for many years as the Group B antigen (GBC). We have constructed the first GBC-depleted strain of S. agalactiae (ΔgbcO) that displayed important growth-related defects due to mislocalization of peptidoglycan synthesis and remodeling enzymes. The phenotypes of the ΔgbcO mutant are similar to those observed for a ΔtarO mutant of Staphylococcus aureus, tarO being involved in the first step of the biosynthesis of wall teichoic acid (WTA). Hence, our results strongly suggest that GBC is the functional homolog of WTA in GBS, both being peptidoglycan-anchored glycopolymers required for the maintenance of normal growth and proper cell division. Based on genome comparisons, we postulate that GBC-like molecules with similar functions are synthesized by other streptococcal species responsible for a variety of infectious diseases in human and animals. These putative biosynthetic pathways might constitute attractive targets for the development of novel antimicrobial molecules.
PMCID: PMC3375309  PMID: 22719253
4.  Diffusion of Nanoparticles in Biofilms Is Altered by Bacterial Cell Wall Hydrophobicity ▿  
Diffusion of entities inside biofilm triggers most mechanisms involved in biofilm-specific phenotypes. Using genetically engineered hydrophilic and hydrophobic cells of Lactococcus lactis yielding similar biofilm architectures, we demonstrated by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy that bacterial surface properties affect diffusion of nanoparticles through the biofilm matrix.
PMCID: PMC3019707  PMID: 21037304
5.  Genetic Features of Resident Biofilms Determine Attachment of Listeria monocytogenes▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(24):7814-7821.
Planktonic Listeria monocytogenes cells in food-processing environments tend most frequently to adhere to solid surfaces. Under these conditions, they are likely to encounter resident biofilms rather than a raw solid surface. Although metabolic interactions between L. monocytogenes and resident microflora have been widely studied, little is known about the biofilm properties that influence the initial fixation of L. monocytogenes to the biofilm interface. To study these properties, we created a set of model resident Lactococcus lactis biofilms with various architectures, types of matrices, and individual cell surface properties. This was achieved using cell wall mutants that affect bacterial chain formation, exopolysaccharide (EPS) synthesis and surface hydrophobicity. The dynamics of the formation of these biofilm structures were analyzed in flow cell chambers using in situ time course confocal laser scanning microscopy imaging. All the L. lactis biofilms tested reduced the initial immobilization of L. monocytogenes compared to the glass substratum of the flow cell. Significant differences were seen in L. monocytogenes settlement as a function of the genetic background of resident lactococcal biofilm cells. In particular, biofilms of the L. lactis chain-forming mutant resulted in a marked increase in L. monocytogenes settlement, while biofilms of the EPS-secreting mutant efficiently prevented pathogen fixation. These results offer new insights into the role of resident biofilms in governing the settlement of pathogens on food chain surfaces and could be of relevance in the field of food safety controls.
PMCID: PMC2794110  PMID: 19837841
6.  Identification of the Asparagine Synthase Responsible for d-Asp Amidation in the Lactococcus lactis Peptidoglycan Interpeptide Crossbridge▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(11):3752-3757.
We show that in Lactococcus lactis, the gene asnH encodes the asparagine synthase involved in amidation of d-Asp present in peptidoglycan side chains and crossbridges. The level of d-Asp amidation in peptidoglycan has a strong effect on the sensitivity of bacteria to endogenous autolysins and to the cationic antimicrobials nisin and lysozyme.
PMCID: PMC2681893  PMID: 19329637
7.  Positive role of cell wall anchored proteinase PrtP in adhesion of lactococci 
BMC Microbiology  2007;7:36.
The first step in biofilm formation is bacterial attachment to solid surfaces, which is dependent on the cell surface physico-chemical properties. Cell wall anchored proteins (CWAP) are among the known adhesins that confer the adhesive properties to pathogenic Gram-positive bacteria. To investigate the role of CWAP of non-pathogen Gram-positive bacteria in the initial steps of biofilm formation, we evaluated the physico-chemical properties and adhesion to solid surfaces of Lactococcus lactis. To be able to grow in milk this dairy bacterium expresses a cell wall anchored proteinase PrtP for breakdown of milk caseins.
The influence of the anchored cell wall proteinase PrtP on microbial surface physico-chemical properties, and consequently on adhesion, was evaluated using lactococci carrying different alleles of prtP. The presence of cell wall anchored proteinase on the surface of lactococcal cells resulted in an increased affinity to solvents with different physico-chemical properties (apolar and Lewis acid-base solvents). These properties were observed regardless of whether the PrtP variant was biologically active or not, and were not observed in strains without PrtP. Anchored PrtP displayed a significant increase in cell adhesion to solid glass and tetrafluoroethylene surfaces.
Obtained results indicate that exposure of an anchored cell wall proteinase PrtP, and not its proteolytic activity, is responsible for greater cell hydrophobicity and adhesion. The increased bacterial affinity to polar and apolar solvents indicated that exposure of PrtP on lactococcal cell surface could enhance the capacity to exchange attractive van der Waals interactions, and consequently increase their adhesion to different types of solid surfaces and solvents.
PMCID: PMC1876236  PMID: 17474995
8.  Peptidoglycan Structure Analysis of Lactococcus lactis Reveals the Presence of an l,d-Carboxypeptidase Involved in Peptidoglycan Maturation 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(14):5293-5298.
Detailed structural analysis of Lactococcus lactis peptidoglycan was achieved by identification of its constituent muropeptides separated by reverse phase high-performance liquid chromatography. Modification of the classical elution buffer allowed direct and sensitive analysis of the purified muropeptides by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry. The structures of 45 muropeptides were assigned for L. lactis strain MG1363. Analysis of the muropeptide composition of an MG1363 dacB mutant showed that the dacB-encoded protein has l,d-carboxypeptidase activity and is involved in peptidoglycan maturation.
PMCID: PMC1539975  PMID: 16816203
9.  Utilization of tmRNA sequences for bacterial identification 
BMC Microbiology  2001;1:20.
Ribosomal RNA molecules are widely used for phylogenetic and in situ identification of bacteria. Nevertheless, their use to distinguish microorganisms within a species is often restricted by the high degree of sequence conservation and limited probe accessibility to the target in fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). To overcome these limitations, we examined the use of tmRNA for in situ identification. In E. coli, this stable 363 nucleotides long RNA is encoded by the ssrA gene, which is involved in the degradation of truncated proteins.
Conserved sequences at the 5'- and 3'-ends of tmRNA genes were used to design universal primers that could amplify the internal part of ssrA from Gram-positive bacteria having low G+C content, i.e. genera Bacillus, Enterococcus, Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Listeria, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. Sequence analysis of tmRNAs showed that this molecule can be used for phylogenetic assignment of bacteria. Compared to 16S rRNA, the tmRNA nucleotide sequences of some bacteria, for example Listeria, display considerable divergence between species. Using E. coli as an example, we have shown that bacteria can be specifically visualized by FISH with tmRNA targeted probes.
Features of tmRNA, including its presence in phylogenetically distant bacteria, conserved regions at gene extremities and a potential to serve as target for FISH, make this molecule a possible candidate for identification of bacteria.
PMCID: PMC55692  PMID: 11560762
10.  Estimation of the State of the Bacterial Cell Wall by Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization 
Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) is now a widely used method for identification of bacteria at the single-cell level. With gram-positive bacteria, the thick peptidoglycan layer of a cell wall presents a barrier for entry of horseradish peroxidase (HRP)-labeled probes. Therefore, such probes do not give any signal in FISH unless cells are first treated with enzymes which hydrolyze the peptidoglycan. We explored this feature of FISH to detect cells which have undergone permeabilization due to expression of autolytic enzymes. Our results indicate that FISH performed with HRP-labeled probes provides a sensitive method to estimate the states of cell walls of individual gram-positive bacteria.
PMCID: PMC106815  PMID: 9687473
11.  Cloning and analysis of the genes encoding the type IIS restriction-modification system HphI from Haemophilus parahaemolyticus. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1996;24(14):2760-2766.
The genomic region encoding the type IIS restriction-modification (R-M) system HphI (enzymes recognizing the asymmetric sequence 5'-GGTGA-3'/5'-TCACC-3') from Haemophilus parahaemolyticus were cloned into Escherichia coli and sequenced. Sequence analysis of the R-M HphI system revealed three adjacent genes aligned in the same orientation: a cytosine 5 methyltransferase (gene hphIMC), an adenine N6 methyltransferase (hphIMA) and the HphI restriction endonuclease (gene hphIR). Either methyltransferase is capable of protecting plasmid DNA in vivo against the action of the cognate restriction endonuclease. hphIMA methylation renders plasmid DNA resistant to R.Hindill at overlapping sites, suggesting that the adenine methyltransferase modifies the 3'-terminal A residue on the GGTGA strand. Strong homology was found between the N-terminal part of the m6A methyltransferasease and an unidentified reading frame interrupted by an incomplete gaIE gene of Neisseria meningitidis. The HphI R-M genes are flanked by a copy of a 56 bp direct nucleotide repeat on each side. Similar sequences have also been identified in the non-coding regions of H.influenzae Rd DNA. Possible involvement of the repeat sequences in the mobility of the HphI R-M system is discussed.
PMCID: PMC146015  PMID: 8759008
12.  DNA restriction-modification systems mediate plasmid maintenance. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1995;177(12):3451-3454.
Two plasmid-carried restriction-modification (R-M) systems, EcoRI (from pMB1 of Escherichia coli) and Bsp6I (from pXH13 of Bacillus sp. strain RFL6), enhance plasmid segregational stability in E. coli and Bacillus subtilis, respectively. Inactivation of the endonuclease or the presence of the methylase in trans abolish the stabilizing activity of the R-M systems. We propose that R-M systems mediate plasmid segregational stability by postsegregational killing of plasmid-free cells. Plasmid-encoded methyltransferase modifies host DNA and thus prevents its digestion by the restriction endonuclease. Plasmid loss entails degradation and/or dilution of the methylase during cell growth and appearance of unmethylated sites in the chromosome. Double-strand breaks, introduced at these sites by the endonuclease, eventually cause the death of the plasmid-free cells. Contribution to plasmid stability is a previously unrecognized biological role of the R-M systems.
PMCID: PMC177048  PMID: 7768854
13.  Tn10-mediated inversions fuse uridine phosphorylase (udp) and rRNA genes of Escherichia coli. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1994;176(8):2265-2271.
Two strains carrying metE::Tn10 insertions (upstream of the udp gene) were used to isolate mutants of Escherichia coli overexpressing udp. These strains differ in their gene order; one contains an inversion between the rrnD and rrnE rRNA operons. Selection was based on the ability of overexpressed Udp to complement thymine auxotrophy. Chromosomal rearrangements that connect the udp gene and promoters of different rrn operons were obtained by this selection. Seven of 14 independent mutants selected in one of the initial strains contained similar inversions of the metE-rrnD segment of the chromosome (about 12% of its length). Another mutant contained traces of a more complicated event, inversion between rrnB and rrnG operons, which was followed by reinversion of the segment between metE and the hybrid rrnG/B operon. Similar inversions (udp-rrn) in a strain already carrying an rrnE-rrnD inversion flip the chromosomal segment between metE and rrnD/E in the opposite direction. In this case, inversions are also accompanied by duplications of the chromosomal region between the rrnA and hybrid udp-rrnD/E operons. PCR amplification with a set of oligonucleotides from the rrn, Tn5, and met genes was used for more detailed mapping. Amplified fragments of the rearranged chromosomes connecting rrnD sequences and insertion elements were sequenced, and inversion endpoints were established.
PMCID: PMC205348  PMID: 7512551
14.  cysQ, a gene needed for cysteine synthesis in Escherichia coli K-12 only during aerobic growth. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1992;174(2):415-425.
The initial steps in assimilation of sulfate during cysteine biosynthesis entail sulfate uptake and sulfate activation by formation of adenosine 5'-phosphosulfate, conversion to 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphosulfate, and reduction to sulfite. Mutations in a previously uncharacterized Escherichia coli gene, cysQ, which resulted in a requirement for sulfite or cysteine, were obtained by in vivo insertion of transposons Tn5tac1 and Tn5supF and by in vitro insertion of resistance gene cassettes. cysQ is at chromosomal position 95.7 min (kb 4517 to 4518) and is transcribed divergently from the adjacent cpdB gene. A Tn5tac1 insertion just inside the 3' end of cysQ, with its isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside-inducible tac promoter pointed toward the cysQ promoter, resulted in auxotrophy only when isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside was present; this conditional phenotype was ascribed to collision between converging RNA polymerases or interaction between complementary antisense and cysQ mRNAs. The auxotrophy caused by cysQ null mutations was leaky in some but not all E. coli strains and could be compensated by mutations in unlinked genes. cysQ mutants were prototrophic during anaerobic growth. Mutations in cysQ did not affect the rate of sulfate uptake or the activities of ATP sulfurylase and its protein activator, which together catalyze adenosine 5'-phosphosulfate synthesis. Some mutations that compensated for cysQ null alleles resulted in sulfate transport defects. cysQ is identical to a gene called amtA, which had been thought to be needed for ammonium transport. Computer analyses, detailed elsewhere, revealed significant amino acid sequence homology between cysQ and suhB of E. coli and the gene for mammalian inositol monophosphatase. Previous work had suggested that 3'-phosphoadenoside 5'-phosphosulfate is toxic if allowed to accumulate, and we propose that CysQ helps control the pool of 3'-phosphoadenoside 5'-phosphosulfate, or its use in sulfite synthesis.
PMCID: PMC205732  PMID: 1729235
15.  Efficient introduction of cloned mutant alleles into the Escherichia coli chromosome. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1991;173(8):2633-2638.
An efficient method for moving mutations in cloned Escherichia coli DNA from plasmid vectors to the bacterial chromosome was developed. Cells carrying plasmids that had been mutated by the insertion of a resistance gene were infected with lambda phage containing homologous cloned DNA, and resulting lysates were used for transduction. Chromosomal transductants (recombinants) were distinguished from plasmid transductants by their ampicillin-sensitive phenotype, or plasmid transductants were avoided by using a recBC sbcB E. coli strain as recipient. Chromosomal transductants were usually haploid when obtained in a nonlysogen because of selection against the lambda vector and partially diploid when obtained in a lysogen. Pure stocks of phage that carry the resistance marker and transduce it at high frequency were obtained from transductant bacteria. The lambda-based method for moving mutant alleles into the bacterial chromosome described here should be useful for diverse analyses of gene function and genome structure.
PMCID: PMC207830  PMID: 1826503
16.  Transposon Tn5supF-based reverse genetic method for mutational analysis of Escherichia coli with DNAs cloned in lambda phage. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1991;173(2):896-899.
An efficient method for systematic mutational analysis of the Escherichia coli genome was developed. It entails Tn5supF transposition to lambda-E. coli hybrid phage clones (Kohara library) and then transduction of recipient cells to Sup+. Essential and nonessential genes are distinguished by the ability of insertion mutant phage to form haploid versus only heterozygous partial diploid bacterial recombinants.
PMCID: PMC207086  PMID: 1846153
17.  Imaging the nanoscale organization of peptidoglycan in living Lactococcus lactis cells 
Nature Communications  2010;1(3):1-8.
Peptidoglycans provide bacterial cell walls with mechanical strength. The spatial organization of peptidoglycan has previously been difficult to study. Here, atomic force microscopy, together with cells carrying mutations in cell-wall polysaccharides, has allowed an in-depth study of these molecules.
The spatial organization of peptidoglycan, the major constituent of bacterial cell-walls, is an important, yet still unsolved issue in microbiology. In this paper, we show that the combined use of atomic force microscopy and cell wall mutants is a powerful platform for probing the nanoscale architecture of cell wall peptidoglycan in living Gram-positive bacteria. Using topographic imaging, we found that Lactococcus lactis wild-type cells display a smooth, featureless surface morphology, whereas mutant strains lacking cell wall exopolysaccharides feature 25-nm-wide periodic bands running parallel to the short axis of the cell. In addition, we used single-molecule recognition imaging to show that parallel bands are made of peptidoglycan. Our data, obtained for the first time on living ovococci, argue for an architectural feature of the cell wall in the plane perpendicular to the long axis of the cell. The non-invasive live cell experiments presented here open new avenues for understanding the architecture and assembly of peptidoglycan in Gram-positive bacteria.
PMCID: PMC2964452  PMID: 20975688

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