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Biophys J. 2008 Aug;95(3):1034-49. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.126920. Epub 2008 Apr 4.

Lipid localization in bacterial cells through curvature-mediated microphase separation.

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  • 1Department of Physics, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.

Abstract

Although many proteins are known to localize in bacterial cells, for the most part our understanding of how such localization takes place is limited. Recent evidence that the phospholipid cardiolipin localizes to the poles of rod-shaped bacteria suggests that targeting of some proteins may rely on the heterogeneous distribution of membrane lipids. Membrane curvature has been proposed as a factor in the polar localization of high-intrinsic-curvature lipids, but the small size of lipids compared to the dimensions of the cell means that single molecules cannot stably localize. At the other extreme, phase separation of the membrane energetically favors a single domain of such lipids at one pole. We have proposed a physical mechanism in which osmotic pinning of the membrane to the cell wall naturally produces microphase separation, i.e., lipid domains of finite size, whose aggregate sensitivity to cell curvature can support spontaneous and stable localization to both poles. Here, we demonstrate that variations in the strength of pinning of the membrane to the cell wall can also act as a strong localization mechanism, in agreement with observations of cardiolipin relocalization from the poles to the septum during sporulation in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. In addition, we rigorously determine the relationship between localization and the domain-size distribution including the effects of entropy, and quantify the strength of domain-domain interactions. Our model predicts a critical concentration of cardiolipin below which domains will not form and hence polar localization will not take place. This observation is consistent with recent experiments showing that in Escherichia coli cells with reduced cardiolipin concentrations, cardiolipin and the osmoregulatory protein ProP fail to localize to the poles.

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