Myxococcus xanthus displays a form of surface motility known as social (S) gliding. It is mediated by the type IV pilus (T4P) and requires the exopolysaccharide (EPS) to function. It is clear that T4P retraction powers S motility. EPS on a neighboring cell or deposited on a gliding surface is proposed to anchor the distal end of a pilus and trigger T4P retraction at its proximal end. Inversely, T4P has been shown to regulate EPS production upstream of the Dif signaling pathway. Here we describe the isolation of two Tn insertions at the stk locus which had been known to play roles in cellular cohesion and formation of cell groups. An insertion in stkA (MXAN_3474) was identified based on its ability to restore EPS to a pilA deletion mutant. The stkA encodes a DnaK or Hsp70 homolog and it is upstream of stkB (MXAN_3475) and stkC (MXAN_3476). A stkB insertion was identified in a separate genetic screen because it eliminated EPS production of an EPS+ parental strain. Our results with in-frame deletions of these three stk genes indicated that the stkA mutant produced increased level of EPS while stkB and stkC mutants produced less EPS relative to the wild type. S motility and developmental aggregation were affected by deletions of stkA and stkB but only minimally by the deletion of stkC. Genetic epistasis indicated that StkA functions downstream of T4P but upstream of the Dif proteins as a negative regulator of EPS production in M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus; Type IV pilus (T4P); Dif pathway; Exopolysaccharide (EPS); Social motility; StkA/DnaK/Hsp70
The bacterial type IV pilus (T4P) is the strongest biological motor known to date as its retraction can generate forces well over 100 pN. Myxococcus xanthus, a δ-proteobacterium, provides a good model for T4P investigations because its social (S) gliding motility is powered by T4P. In this study, the interactions among M. xanthus T4P proteins were investigated using genetics and the yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) system. Our genetic analysis suggests that there is an integrated T4P structure that crosses the inner membrane (IM), periplasm and the outer membrane (OM). Moreover, this structure exists in the absence of the pilus filament. A systematic Y2H survey provided evidence for direct interactions among IM and OM proteins exposed to the periplasm. For example, the IM lipoprotein PilP interacted with its cognate OM protein PilQ. In addition, interactions among T4P proteins from the thermophile Thermus thermophilus were investigated by Y2H. The results indicated similar protein-protein interactions in the T4P system of this non-proteobacterium despite significant sequence divergence between T4P proteins in T. thermophilus and M. xanthus. The observations here support the model of an integrated T4P structure in the absence of a pilus in diverse bacterial species.
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.
Summary: In bacteria, motility is important for a wide variety of biological functions such as virulence, fruiting body formation, and biofilm formation. While most bacteria move by using specialized appendages, usually external or periplasmic flagella, some bacteria use other mechanisms for their movements that are less well characterized. These mechanisms do not always exhibit obvious motility structures. Myxococcus xanthus is a motile bacterium that does not produce flagella but glides slowly over solid surfaces. How M. xanthus moves has remained a puzzle that has challenged microbiologists for over 50 years. Fortunately, recent advances in the analysis of motility mutants, bioinformatics, and protein localization have revealed likely mechanisms for the two M. xanthus motility systems. These results are summarized in this review.
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.
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, 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 that 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative soil bacterium which undergoes fruiting body formation during starvation. The frz signal transduction system has been found to play an important role in this process. FrzCD, a methyl-accepting taxis protein homologue, shows modulated methylation during cellular aggregation, which is thought to be part of an adaptation response to an aggregation signal. In this study, we assayed FrzCD methylation in many known and newly isolated mutants defective in fruiting body formation to determine a possible relationship between the methylation response and fruiting morphology. The results of our analysis indicated that the developmental mutants could be divided into two groups based on their ability to show normal FrzCD methylation during development. Many mutants blocked early in development, i.e., nonaggregating or abnormally aggregating mutants, showed poor FrzCD methylation. The well-characterized asg, bsg, csg, and esg mutants were found to be of this type. The defects in FrzCD methylation of these signaling mutants could be partially rescued by extracellular complementation with wild-type cells or addition of chemicals which restore their fruiting body formation. Mutants blocked in late development, i.e., translucent mounds, showed normal FrzCD methylation. Surprisingly, some mutants blocked in early development also exhibited a normal level of FrzCD methylation. The characterized mutants in this group were found to be defective in social motility. This indicates that FrzCD methylation defines a discrete step in the development of M. xanthus and that social motility mutants are not blocked in these early developmental steps.
Borrelia burgdorferi is a motile spirochete which has been identified as the causative microorganism in Lyme disease. The physiological functions which govern the motility of this organism have not been elucidated. In this study, we found that motility of B. burgdorferi required an environment similar to interstitial fluid (e.g., pH 7.6 and 0.15 M NaCl). Several methods were used to detect and measure chemotaxis of B. burgdorferi. A number of chemical compounds and mixtures were surveyed for the ability to induce positive and negative chemotaxis of B. burgdorferi. Rabbit serum was found to be an attractant for B. burgdorferi, while ethanol and butanol were found to be repellents. Unlike some free-living spirochetes (e.g., Spirochaeta aurantia), B. burgdorferi did not exhibit any observable chemotaxis to common sugars or amino acids. A method was developed to produce spirochete cells with a self-entangled end. These cells enabled us to study the rotation of a single flagellar bundle in response to chemoattractants or repellents. The study shows that the frequency and duration for pausing of flagella are important for chemotaxis of B. burgdorferi.
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.