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J Bacteriol. 2011 Oct;193(19):5335-46. doi: 10.1128/JB.05490-11. Epub 2011 Jul 22.

Osmotically controlled synthesis of the compatible solute proline is critical for cellular defense of Bacillus subtilis against high osmolarity.

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Philipps-University Marburg, Department of Biology, Laboratory for Microbiology, Karl-von-Frisch-Str. 8, D-35032 Marburg, Germany.


Bacillus subtilis is known to accumulate large amounts of the compatible solute proline via de novo synthesis as a stress protectant when it faces high-salinity environments. We elucidated the genetic determinants required for the osmoadaptive proline production from the precursor glutamate. This proline biosynthesis route relies on the proJ-encoded γ-glutamyl kinase, the proA-encoded γ-glutamyl phosphate reductase, and the proH-encoded Δ1-pyrroline-5-caboxylate reductase. Disruption of the proHJ operon abolished osmoadaptive proline production and strongly impaired the ability of B. subtilis to cope with high-osmolarity growth conditions. Disruption of the proA gene also abolished osmoadaptive proline biosynthesis but caused, in contrast to the disruption of proHJ, proline auxotrophy. Northern blot analysis demonstrated that the transcription of the proHJ operon is osmotically inducible, whereas that of the proBA operon is not. Reporter gene fusion studies showed that proHJ expression is rapidly induced upon an osmotic upshift. Increased expression is maintained as long as the osmotic stimulus persists and is sensitively linked to the prevalent osmolarity of the growth medium. Primer extension analysis revealed the osmotically controlled proHJ promoter, a promoter that resembles typical SigA-type promoters of B. subtilis. Deletion analysis of the proHJ promoter region identified a 126-bp DNA segment carrying all sequences required in cis for osmoregulated transcription. Our data disclose the presence of ProA-interlinked anabolic and osmoadaptive proline biosynthetic routes in B. subtilis and demonstrate that the synthesis of the compatible solute proline is a central facet of the cellular defense to high-osmolarity surroundings for this soil bacterium.

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