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Nature. 2015 Nov 5;527(7576):59-63. doi: 10.1038/nature15709. Epub 2015 Oct 21.

Ion channels enable electrical communication in bacterial communities.

Author information

1
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, California 92093, USA.
2
Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.
3
Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.

Abstract

The study of bacterial ion channels has provided fundamental insights into the structural basis of neuronal signalling; however, the native role of ion channels in bacteria has remained elusive. Here we show that ion channels conduct long-range electrical signals within bacterial biofilm communities through spatially propagating waves of potassium. These waves result from a positive feedback loop, in which a metabolic trigger induces release of intracellular potassium, which in turn depolarizes neighbouring cells. Propagating through the biofilm, this wave of depolarization coordinates metabolic states among cells in the interior and periphery of the biofilm. Deletion of the potassium channel abolishes this response. As predicted by a mathematical model, we further show that spatial propagation can be hindered by specific genetic perturbations to potassium channel gating. Together, these results demonstrate a function for ion channels in bacterial biofilms, and provide a prokaryotic paradigm for active, long-range electrical signalling in cellular communities.

PMID:
26503040
PMCID:
PMC4890463
DOI:
10.1038/nature15709
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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