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Membrane lipid homeostasis in bacteria

Key Points

  • The ability of bacteria to control the biophysical properties of their membrane phospholipids allows them to thrive in a wide range of physical environments.

  • Fatty acid biosynthesis is an energy-intensive biosynthetic pathway, and the production of the building blocks for membrane phospholipids is precisely regulated to match the rate of cell division.

  • Bacteria control the homeostasis of membrane lipid biophysical properties by altering the chain length of fatty acids, as well as the ratio of saturated:unsaturated fatty acids. The de novo, type II fatty acid biosynthetic pathway is a major focal point for the regulation of fatty acid composition.

  • Bacteria can alter the physical properties of existing phospholipids by introducing cis double bonds into saturated acyl chains, thereby converting cis double bonds into cyclopropane rings and catalysing the isomerization of cis fatty acids to their trans conformations.

  • Phospholipids are used as intermediates in the formation of major structural constituents of the cell. Managing the metabolism of the lipid by-products of these biosynthetic pathways is important to prevent the accumulation of membrane-disruptive lipids and to conserve the energy that is invested in the biosynthesis of the fatty acids.

  • Modification of phosphatidylglycerol by the attachment of a lysine residue to the glycerol head group is an adaptive response that is used by pathogens to increase their resistance to cationic antibacterial peptides (defensins) that are produced by the innate immune system.

Abstract

The ability of bacteria to control the biophysical properties of their membrane phospholipids allows them to thrive in a wide range of physical environments. Bacteria precisely adjust their membrane lipid composition by modifying the types of fatty acids that are produced by the biosynthetic pathway and altering the structures of pre-existing phospholipids. The recycling of phospholipids that are used as intermediates in the biosynthesis of other major membrane components is also crucial to bilayer stability in dividing cells. Here, the principal genetic and biochemical processes that are responsible for membrane lipid homeostasis in bacteria are reviewed.

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Figure 1: Conserved pathway for the formation of phosphatidic acid in bacteria.
Figure 2: Diversification of polar head groups.
Figure 3: Modification of existing phospholipid structures in bacteria.
Figure 4: Membrane phospholipid turnover.

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Acknowledgements

Research in the authors' laboratory is supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant GM34496, Cancer Center (CORE) Support grant CA21765 and the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.

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DATABASES

Entrez Genome Project

Bacillus subtilis

Enterococcus faecalis

Escherichia coli

Listeria monocytogenes

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Pseudomonas putida

Streptococcus pneumoniae

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Glossary

Type II fatty acid biosynthetic pathway

The pathway by which fatty acids are synthesized in bacteria, chloroplasts and mitochondria. Distinct enzymes, each of which are encoded by an individual gene, catalyse the different steps of the pathway.

Lysophosphatidic acid

1-acyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphate; the first intermediate in membrane phospholipid formation.

Phosphatidic acid

1,2-diacyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphate; the key intermediate in the formation of most bacterial membrane phospholipids.

Zwitterionic

A compound that is electrically neutral, but that carries formal positive and negative charges on different atoms.

RpoS

A specific sigma factor that is induced as cells enter the stationary phase of growth.

Sigma factor

A transcription initiation factor that enables the binding of RNA polymerase to gene promoters.

RpoH

A specific sigma factor that is induced in response to heat shock.

Defensin

A cationic peptide that is produced by the innate immune system and that kills bacteria by disrupting the phospholipid bilayer.

Undecaprenol

A 55-carbon isoprenoid alcohol that functions as a carrier of sugars in the synthesis of peptidoglycan.

Major facilitator superfamily

A large family of transporters that has varied substrate specificity; members of this family possess 12–14 transmembrane segments.

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Zhang, YM., Rock, C. Membrane lipid homeostasis in bacteria. Nat Rev Microbiol 6, 222–233 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro1839

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