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J Bacteriol. 2011 Dec;193(23):6712-23. doi: 10.1128/JB.05979-11. Epub 2011 Sep 30.

Hopanoid production is required for low-pH tolerance, antimicrobial resistance, and motility in Burkholderia cenocepacia.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5C1, Canada.


Hopanoids are pentacyclic triterpenoids that are thought to be bacterial surrogates for eukaryotic sterols, such as cholesterol, acting to stabilize membranes and to regulate their fluidity and permeability. To date, very few studies have evaluated the role of hopanoids in bacterial physiology. The synthesis of hopanoids depends on the enzyme squalene-hopene cyclase (Shc), which converts the linear squalene into the basic hopene structure. Deletion of the 2 genes encoding Shc enzymes in Burkholderia cenocepacia K56-2, BCAM2831 and BCAS0167, resulted in a strain that was unable to produce hopanoids, as demonstrated by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Complementation of the Δshc mutant with only BCAM2831 was sufficient to restore hopanoid production to wild-type levels, while introducing a copy of BCAS0167 alone into the Δshc mutant produced only very small amounts of the hopanoid peak. The Δshc mutant grew as well as the wild type in medium buffered to pH 7 and demonstrated no defect in its ability to survive and replicate within macrophages, despite transmission electron microscopy (TEM) revealing defects in the organization of the cell envelope. The Δshc mutant displayed increased sensitivity to low pH, detergent, and various antibiotics, including polymyxin B and erythromycin. Loss of hopanoid production also resulted in severe defects in both swimming and swarming motility. This suggests that hopanoid production plays an important role in the physiology of B. cenocepacia.

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