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Med Sci Monit. 2002 Jun;8(6):RA119-27.

Hydrolysis of cortex peptidoglycan during bacterial spore germination.

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  • 1Department of Applied Molecular Biosciences, Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University, Aichi, Japan. makino@agr.nagoya-u.ac.jp


Despite the most extreme dormancy and resistance properties among living systems, bacterial endospores retain an alert sensory mechanism to respond to the germinants and initiate germination. Although the molecular mechanism of the germination process is not completely described, current progress in the studies on the enzymes involved in the process gave us a somewhat clearer picture of the process of spore peptidoglycan (cortex) hydrolysis, a major biochemical event in germination. Germination-specific cortex-lytic enzymes require muramic acid d-lactam in their substrates. At least two types of enzymes are involved in the germination process: a spore cortex-lytic enzyme (SCLE) and a cortical fragment-lytic enzyme (CFLE). Except for their peptidoglycan-binding regions, the primary structures of SCLE and CFLE vary according species. Both enzymes differ in their hydrolytic bond-specificities and recognition of the substrates morphology. SCLE appears to initiate germination by uncrosslinking the intract cortex, and the CFLE further degrades the polysaccharide moiety of the SCLE-modified cortex. In vivo CFLE activity is likely regulated by its requirement for partially un-crosslinked cortex, while SCLE requires activation process. Clostridium perfringens SCLE is activated by a germination-specific serine protease during germination, but the activation mechanism of SCLE in Bacillus species is unknown. Cortex-lytic enzymes are expressed at the early stage of sporulation but the compartment of expression depends on proteins. However, all enzymes are located outside the cortex layer in dormant spores, suggesting that the hydrolysis process initiates at the exterior side of the cortex. The assembly of the germination apparatus is also discussed.

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