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J Bacteriol. 2005 Jan;187(1):257-65.

The elastic properties of the caulobacter crescentus adhesive holdfast are dependent on oligomers of N-acetylglucosamine.

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Physics Department, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


The aquatic bacterium Caulobacter crescentus attaches to solid surfaces through an adhesive holdfast located at the tip of its polar stalk, a thin cylindrical extension of the cell membrane. In this paper, the elastic properties of the C. crescentus stalk and holdfast assembly were studied by using video light microscopy. In particular, the contribution of oligomers of N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) to the elasticity of holdfast was examined by lysozyme digestion. C. crescentus cells attached to a surface undergo Brownian motion while confined effectively in a harmonic potential. Mathematical analysis of such motion enabled us to determine the force constant of the stalk-holdfast assembly, which quantifies its elastic properties. The measured force constant exhibits no dependence on stalk length, consistent with the theoretical estimate showing that the stalk can be treated as a rigid rod with respect to fluctuations of the attached cells. Therefore, the force constant of the stalk-holdfast assembly can be attributed to the elasticity of the holdfast. Motions of cells in a rosette were found to be correlated, consistent with the elastic characteristics of the holdfast. Atomic force microscopy analysis indicates that the height of a dried (in air) holdfast is approximately one-third of that of a wet (in water) holdfast, consistent with the gel-like nature of the holdfast. Lysozyme, which cleaves oligomers of GlcNAc, reduced the force constant to less than 10% of its original value, consistent with the polysaccharide gel-like nature of the holdfast. These results also indicate that GlcNAc polymers play an important role in the strength of the holdfast.

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