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EMBO J. 2011 Jul 26;30(16):3442-53. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2011.246.

Distinct pathways for modification of the bacterial cell wall by non-canonical D-amino acids.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and HHMI, Boston, MA, USA.


Production of non-canonical D-amino acids (NCDAAs) in stationary phase promotes remodelling of peptidoglycan (PG), the polymer that comprises the bacterial cell wall. Impairment of NCDAAs production leads to excessive accumulation of PG and hypersensitivity to osmotic shock; however, the mechanistic bases for these phenotypes were not previously determined. Here, we show that incorporation of NCDAAs into PG is a critical means by which NCDAAs control PG abundance and strength. We identified and reconstituted in vitro two (of at least three) distinct processes that mediate NCDAA incorporation. Diverse bacterial phyla incorporate NCDAAs into their cell walls, either through periplasmic editing of the mature PG or via incorporation into PG precursor subunits in the cytosol. Production of NCDAAs in Vibrio cholerae requires the stress response sigma factor RpoS, suggesting that NCDAAs may aid bacteria in responding to varied environmental challenges. The widespread capacity of diverse bacteria, including non-producers, to incorporate NCDAAs suggests that these amino acids may serve as both autocrine- and paracrine-like regulators of chemical and physical properties of the cell wall in microbial communities.

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