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J Bacteriol. 1999 Apr;181(7):2008-16.

A novel membrane protein influencing cell shape and multicellular swarming of Proteus mirabilis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QP, United Kingdom.


Swarming in Proteus mirabilis is characterized by the coordinated surface migration of multicellular rafts of highly elongated, hyperflagellated swarm cells. We describe a transposon mutant, MNS185, that was unable to swarm even though vegetative cells retained normal motility and the ability to differentiate into swarm cells. However, these elongated cells were irregularly curved and had variable diameters, suggesting that the migration defect results from the inability of these deformed swarm cells to align into multicellular rafts. The transposon was inserted at codon 196 of a 228-codon gene that lacks recognizable homologs. Multiple copies of the wild-type gene, called ccmA, for curved cell morphology, restored swarming to the mutant. The 25-kDa CcmA protein is predicted to span the inner membrane twice, with its C-terminal major domain being present in the cytoplasm. Membrane localization was confirmed both by immunoblotting and by electron microscopy of immunogold-labelled sections. Two forms of CcmA were identified for wild-type P. mirabilis; they were full-length integral membrane CcmA1 and N-terminally truncated peripheral membrane CcmA2, both present at approximately 20-fold higher concentrations in swarm cells. Differentiated MNS185 mutant cells contained wild-type levels of the C-terminally truncated versions of both proteins. Elongated cells of a ccmA null mutant were less misshapen than those of MNS185 and were able to swarm, albeit more slowly than wild-type cells. The truncated CcmA proteins may therefore interfere with normal morphogenesis, while the wild-type proteins, which are not essential for swarming, may enhance migration by maintaining the linearity of highly elongated cells. Consistent with this view, overexpression of the ccmA gene caused cells of both Escherichia coli and P. mirabilis to become enlarged and ellipsoidal.

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