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Biochemistry. 2011 May 17;50(19):4087-96. doi: 10.1021/bi1019435. Epub 2011 Apr 20.

Adaptive MscS gating in the osmotic permeability response in E. coli: the question of time.

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Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, United States.


Microorganisms adapt to osmotic downshifts by releasing small osmolytes through mechanosensitive (MS) channels. We want to understand how the small mechanosensitive channel's (MscS) activation and inactivation, both driven by membrane tension, optimize survival in varying hypoosmotic shock situations. By measuring light scattering with a stopped-flow device, we estimate bacterial swelling time as 30-50 ms. A partial solute equilibration follows within 150-200 ms, during which optical responses from cells with WT MscS deviate from those lacking MS channels. MscS opening rates estimated in patch clamp show the channels readily respond to tensions below the lytic limit with a time course faster than 20 ms and close promptly upon tension release. To address the role of the tension-insensitive inactivated state in vivo, we applied short, long, and two-step osmotic shock protocols to WT, noninactivating G113A, and fast-inactivating D62N mutants. WT and G113A showed a comparable survival in short 1 min 800 mOsm downshock experiments, but G113A was at a disadvantage under a long 60 min shock. Preshocking cells carrying WT MscS for 15 s to 15 min with a 200 mOsm downshift did not sensitize them to the final 500 mOsm drop in osmolarity of the second step. However, these two-step shocks induced death in D62N more than just a one-step 700 mOsm downshift. We conclude MscS is able to activate and exude osmolytes faster than lytic pressure builds inside the cell under abrupt shock. During prolonged shocks, gradual inactivation prevents continuous channel activity and assists recovery. Slow kinetics of inactivation in WT MscS ensures that mild shocks do not inactivate the entire population, leaving some protection should conditions worsen.

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