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J Bacteriol. 2007 Sep;189(18):6512-20. Epub 2007 Jun 22.

Unstable Escherichia coli L forms revisited: growth requires peptidoglycan synthesis.

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Institut Jacques Monod, 2 place Jussieu, 75251 Paris Cedex 05, France.


Growing bacterial L forms are reputed to lack peptidoglycan, although cell division is normally inseparable from septal peptidoglycan synthesis. To explore which cell division functions L forms use, we established a protocol for quantitatively converting a culture of a wild-type Escherichia coli K-12 strain overnight to a growing L-form-like state by use of the beta-lactam cefsulodin, a specific inhibitor of penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs) 1A and 1B. In rich hypertonic medium containing cefsulodin, all cells are spherical and osmosensitive, like classical L forms. Surprisingly, however, mutant studies showed that colony formation requires d-glutamate, diaminopimelate, and MurA activity, all of which are specific to peptidoglycan synthesis. High-performance liquid chromatography analysis confirmed that these L-form-like cells contain peptidoglycan, with 7% of the normal amount. Moreover, the beta-lactam piperacillin, a specific inhibitor of the cell division protein PBP 3, rapidly blocks the cell division of these L-form-like cells. Similarly, penicillin-induced L-form-like cells, which grow only within the agar layers of rich hypertonic plates, also require d-glutamate, diaminopimelate, and MurA activity. These results strongly suggest that cefsulodin- and penicillin-induced L-form-like cells of E. coli-and possibly all L forms-have residual peptidoglycan synthesis which is essential for their growth, probably being required for cell division.

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