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The archaeal cell envelope

Key Points

  • The cell envelope of archaea is fundamentally different from bacteria in that it does not contain peptidoglycan, and archaeal membranes are composed of ether lipids instead of ester lipids.

  • Most archaea are surrounded by a surface-layer (S-layer), which is a proteinaceous two-dimensional crystal layer. Some archaeal cell envelopes contain pseudomurein or other unique sugar polymers.

  • Most of the extracellular archaeal proteins are glycosylated (N-linked, O-linked or both). The archaeal N-glycosylation pathway bears similar features to both the eukaryotic and the bacterial pathway. The known archaeal N-glycans are exceedingly diverse in their composition and structure.

  • Most archaeal pili and all archaeal flagella studied to date are assembled by simple type IV pilin-like machineries.

Abstract

At first glance, archaea and bacteria look alike; however, the composition of the archaeal cell envelope is fundamentally different from the bacterial cell envelope. With just one exception, all archaea characterized to date have only a single membrane and most are covered by a paracrystalline protein layer. This Review discusses our current knowledge of the composition of the archaeal cell surface. We describe the wide range of cell wall polymers, O- and N-glycosylated extracellular proteins and other cell surface structures that archaea use to interact with their environment.

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Figure 1: Diversity of surface envelope types across the domain of Archaea.
Figure 2: Cell wall profiles of different archaea.
Figure 3: Models of the archaeal S-layer.
Figure 4: Schematic model of the N-glycosylation pathway in the three domains of life.
Figure 5: Electron micrographs of different archaea possessing a range of surface appendages.

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Acknowledgements

B.H.M. and S.-V.A. were supported by a VIDI grant of the Dutch Science Organization (NWO) and S.-V.A. received additional intramural funds from the Max Planck Society. We want to thank R. Rachel, C. Moissl and G. Wanner for providing us with unpublished picture material. We thank A. Bozarth for critical reading of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sonja-Verena Albers.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information S1 (table)

Summary of occurrence of S-layer proteins and cell wall polymers in Archaea. (PDF 206 kb)

Supplementary information S2 (table)

Extracellular sugar polymers in Archaea. (PDF 293 kb)

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Glossary

Black smoker

A type of hydrothermal vent, which appears as a black chimney-like structure that emits a cloud of black material composed of high levels of sulphur-bearing minerals, or sulphides.

Oblique symmetry

A form of symmetry displayed by S-layer proteins, in which the proteins do not lie at a right angle, or multiples of a right angle, to each other.

Square symmetry

A form of symmetry displayed by S-layer proteins, in which the proteins lie at a right angle, or multiples of a right angle, to each other.

Hexagonal symmetry

A form of symmetry displayed by S-layer proteins, in which the proteins are at an angle of 60° or 120° to each other.

Paracrystalline

A lattice structure that is highly ordered over short distances but lacks long-range ordering at least in one direction.

D-amino acids

All amino acids, except glycine, can exist as either one of two optical isomers, which are mirror images of each other. These forms are called L- or D-amino acids. Only L-amino acids can be recognized in the translation process to be used for the synthesis of proteins. D-amino acids are more rare and can be found, for example, in bacterial peptidoglycan.

Alkaliphilic

Microorganisms that thrive in alkaline environments and require a pH higher than 9 for growth.

Halophilic

Microorganisms that require high concentrations of salt for growth.

Glycocalyx

A cell-surface coat made of glycoproteins and glycolipids.

Thermoadaptation

A mechanism to enable the growth of organisms at high temperatures including adaptation of, for example, proteins, lipids and other cellular components.

Hyperthermophilic

Microorganisms that require high temperatures above 80 °C for optimal growth.

Signal peptide

Part of a preprotein that targets itself to the secretion machinery in the cytoplasmic membrane.

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Albers, SV., Meyer, B. The archaeal cell envelope. Nat Rev Microbiol 9, 414–426 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro2576

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