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Biophys J. 2014 Oct 21;107(8):1962-1969. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2014.08.025.

Origins of Escherichia coli growth rate and cell shape changes at high external osmolality.

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Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; School of Biology and Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Electronic address:
Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; Department of Physics, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.


In Escherichia coli, a sudden increase in external concentration causes a pressure drop across the cell envelope, followed by an active recovery. After recovery, and if the external osmolality remains high, cells have been shown to grow more slowly, smaller, and at reduced turgor pressure. Despite the fact that the active recovery is a key stress response, the nature of these changes and how they relate to each other is not understood. Here, we use fluorescence imaging of single cells during hyperosmotic shocks, combined with custom made microfluidic devices, to show that cells fully recover their volume to the initial, preshock value and continue to grow at a slower rate immediately after the recovery. We show that the cell envelope material properties do not change after hyperosmotic shock, and that cell shape recovers along with cell volume. Taken together, these observations indicate that the turgor pressure recovers to its initial value so that reduced turgor is not responsible for the reduced growth rate observed immediately after recovery. To determine the point at which the reduction in cell size and turgor pressure occurs after shock, we measured the volume of E. coli cells at different stages of growth in bulk cultures. We show that cell volume reaches the same maximal level irrespective of the osmolality of the media. Based on these measurements, we propose that turgor pressure is used as a feedback variable for osmoregulatory pumps instead of being directly responsible for the reduction in growth rates. Reestablishment of turgor to its initial value might ensure correct attachment of the inner membrane and cell wall needed for cell wall biosynthesis.

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