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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 2;5(12):e14198. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014198.

Phosphate starvation triggers production and secretion of an extracellular lipoprotein in Caulobacter crescentus.

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Unité de Recherche en Biologie Moléculaire, University of Namur, Namur, Belgium.


Life in oligotrophic environments necessitates quick adaptive responses to a sudden lack of nutrients. Secretion of specific degradative enzymes into the extracellular medium is a means to mobilize the required nutrient from nearby sources. The aquatic bacterium Caulobacter crescentus must often face changes in its environment such as phosphate limitation. Evidence reported in this paper indicates that under phosphate starvation, C. crescentus produces a membrane surface-anchored lipoprotein named ElpS subsequently released into the extracellular medium. A complete set of 12 genes encoding a type II secretion system (T2SS) is located adjacent to the elpS locus in the C. crescentus genome. Deletion of this T2SS impairs release of ElpS in the environment, which surprisingly remains present at the cell surface, indicating that the T2SS is not involved in the translocation of ElpS to the outer membrane but rather in its release. Accordingly, treatment with protease inhibitors prevents release of ElpS in the extracellular medium suggesting that ElpS secretion relies on a T2SS-secreted protease. Finally, secretion of ElpS is associated with an increase in alkaline phosphatase activity in culture supernatants, suggesting a role of the secreted protein in inorganic phosphate mobilization. In conclusion, we have shown that upon phosphate starvation, C. crescentus produces an outer membrane bound lipoprotein, ElpS, which is further cleaved and released in the extracellular medium in a T2SS-dependent manner. Our data suggest that ElpS is associated with an alkaline phosphatase activity, thereby allowing the bacterium to gather inorganic phosphates from a poor environment.

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