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Self-organization and positioning of bacterial protein clusters


Many cellular processes require proteins to be precisely positioned within the cell. In some cases this can be attributed to passive mechanisms such as recruitment by other proteins in the cell or by exploiting the curvature of the membrane. However, in bacteria, active self-positioning is likely to play a role in multiple processes, including the positioning of the future site of cell division and cytoplasmic protein clusters. How can such dynamic clusters be formed and positioned? Here, we present a model for the self-organization and positioning of dynamic protein clusters into regularly repeating patterns based on a phase-locked Turing pattern. A single peak in the concentration is always positioned at the midpoint of the model cell, and two peaks are positioned at the midpoint of each half. Furthermore, domain growth results in peak splitting and pattern doubling. We argue that the model may explain the regular positioning of the highly conserved structural maintenance of chromosomes complexes on the bacterial nucleoid and that it provides an attractive mechanism for the self-positioning of dynamic protein clusters in other systems.

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Figure 1: A self-positioning Turing pattern.
Figure 2: Pattern splitting during exponential domain growth.
Figure 3: The model provides an explanation for MukBEF clustering and splitting.
Figure 4: Effects of inhomogeneous binding during exponential growth.


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We thank D. Sherratt for providing strain AB45 and R. Colin, U. Endesfelder, P. Graumann, M. Howard, S. Jun and A. Paulick for discussions and/or comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Max Planck Society in the framework of the research network MaxSynBio.

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S.M.M. initiated the work, conceived the model and designed and performed simulations and experiments. V.S. contributed to experiment design. Both authors discussed the results and implications. S.M.M. wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. Both authors edited subsequent and final versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Seán M. Murray.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Murray, S., Sourjik, V. Self-organization and positioning of bacterial protein clusters. Nature Phys 13, 1006–1013 (2017).

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