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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 1;107(22):10086-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000737107. Epub 2010 May 17.

Processivity of peptidoglycan synthesis provides a built-in mechanism for the robustness of straight-rod cell morphology.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


The propagation of cell shape across generations is remarkably robust in most bacteria. Even when deformations are acquired, growing cells progressively recover their original shape once the deforming factors are eliminated. For instance, straight-rod-shaped bacteria grow curved when confined to circular microchambers, but straighten in a growth-dependent fashion when released. Bacterial cell shape is maintained by the peptidoglycan (PG) cell wall, a giant macromolecule of glycan strands that are synthesized by processive enzymes and cross-linked by peptide chains. Changes in cell geometry require modifying the PG and therefore depend directly on the molecular-scale properties of PG structure and synthesis. Using a mathematical model we quantify the straightening of curved Caulobacter crescentus cells after disruption of the cell-curving crescentin structure. We observe that cells straighten at a rate that is about half (57%) the cell growth rate. Next we show that in the absence of other effects there exists a mathematical relationship between the rate of cell straightening and the processivity of PG synthesis-the number of subunits incorporated before termination of synthesis. From the measured rate of cell straightening this relationship predicts processivity values that are in good agreement with our estimates from published data. Finally, we consider the possible role of three other mechanisms in cell straightening. We conclude that regardless of the involvement of other factors, intrinsic properties of PG processivity provide a robust mechanism for cell straightening that is hardwired to the cell wall synthesis machinery.

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