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Front Biosci. 2004 Sep 1;9:1999-2019.

Osmoadaptation and osmoregulation in archaea: update 2004.

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Merkert Chemistry Center, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA.


The response of archaea to changes in external NaCl is reviewed and compared to what is known about osmoadaptation and osmoregulation in bacteria and eukaryotes. Cells placed in altered external NaCl exhibit short term and long term responses. The earliest events are likely to be water movement through aquaporin-like channels (efflux if external NaCl has been increased, influx into the cell if the external NaCl has been decreased) and ion movement (e.g., K+ moving in the direction opposite to water flow) through channels sensitive to osmotic pressure. A brief discussion of recent structures of homologues of these membrane proteins is presented. Accumulation of organic solutes, either by uptake from the medium or de novo synthesis, is triggered after these initial changes. Archaea have some unique organic solutes (osmolytes) that are not used by other organisms. These as well as other more common solutes have a role in stabilizing macromolecules from denaturation. Many osmolytes are distinguished by their stability in the cell and their lack of strong interactions with cellular components. A cell may respond by accumulating one or more temporary osmolytes, then over time readjust the intracellular solute distribution to what is optimal for cell growth under the new conditions. Coupled with the movement and accumulation of solutes is the induction of stress proteins (e.g., chaperonins) and, in some cases, transcriptional regulation of key enzymes. The response to NaCl stress of Methanococcus thermolithotrophicus is presented as an example of how one particular archaeon responds and adapts to altered osmotic pressure. The detailed response of many other archaea to osmotic stress will be needed in order to identify features (aside from some of the organic osmolytes) unique to the organisms in this kingdom.

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