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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jul 23;99(15):9727-32. Epub 2002 Jul 8.

Trehalose synthesis is induced upon exposure of Escherichia coli to cold and is essential for viability at low temperatures.

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Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, 240 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Trehalose accumulates dramatically in microorganisms during heat shock and osmotic stress and helps protect cells against thermal injury and oxygen radicals. Here we demonstrate an important role of this sugar in cold-adaptation of bacteria. A mutant Escherichia coli strain unable to produce trehalose died much faster than the wild type at 4 degrees C. Transformation of the mutant with the otsA/otsB genes, responsible for trehalose synthesis, restored trehalose content and cell viability at 4 degrees C. After temperature downshift from 37 degrees C to 16 degrees C ("cold shock"), trehalose levels in wild-type cells increased up to 8-fold. Although this accumulation of trehalose did not influence growth at 16 degrees C, it enhanced cell viability when the temperature fell further to 4 degrees C. Before the trehalose build-up, levels of mRNA encoding OtsA/OtsB increased markedly. This induction required the sigma factor, RpoS, but was independent of the major cold-shock protein, CspA. otsA/B mRNA was much more stable at 16 degrees C than at 37 degrees C and contained a "downstream box," characteristic of cold-inducible mRNAs. Thus, otsA/otsB induction and trehalose synthesis are activated during cold shock (as well as during heat shock) and play an important role in resistance of E. coli (and probably other organisms) to low temperatures.

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