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Mol Microbiol. 2004 May;52(4):1045-54.

Branching sites and morphological abnormalities behave as ectopic poles in shape-defective Escherichia coli.

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Infectious Disease Division, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Certain mutants in Escherichia coli lacking multiple penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs) produce misshapen cells containing kinks, bends and branches. These deformed regions exhibit two structural characteristics of normal cell poles: the peptidoglycan is inert to dilution by new synthesis or turnover, and a similarly stable patch of outer membrane caps the sites. To test the premise that these aberrant sites represent biochemically functional but misplaced cell poles, we assessed the intracellular distribution of proteins that localize specifically to bacterial poles. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) hybrids containing polar localization sequences from the Shigella flexneri IcsA protein or from the Vibrio cholerae EpsM protein formed foci at the poles of wild-type E. coli and at the poles and morphological abnormalities in PBP mutants. In addition, secreted wild-type IcsA localized to the outer membrane overlying these aberrant domains. We conclude that the morphologically deformed sites in these mutants represent fully functional poles or pole fragments. The results suggest that prokaryotic morphology is driven, at least in part, by the controlled placement of polar material, and that one or more of the low-molecular-weight PBPs participate in this process. Such mutants may help to unravel how particular proteins are targeted to bacterial poles, thereby creating important biochemical and functional asymmetries.

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