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J Bacteriol. 2019 Apr 9;201(9). pii: e00804-18. doi: 10.1128/JB.00804-18. Print 2019 May 1.

Rcs Phosphorelay Activation in Cardiolipin-Deficient Escherichia coli Reduces Biofilm Formation.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.


Biofilm formation is a complex process that requires a number of transcriptional, proteomic, and physiological changes to enable bacterial survival. The lipid membrane presents a barrier to communication between the machinery within bacteria and the physical and chemical features of their extracellular environment, and yet little is known about how the membrane influences biofilm development. We found that depleting the anionic phospholipid cardiolipin reduces biofilm formation in Escherichia coli cells by as much as 50%. The absence of cardiolipin activates the regulation of colanic acid synthesis (Rcs) envelope stress response, which represses the production of flagella, disrupts initial biofilm attachment, and reduces biofilm growth. We demonstrate that a reduction in the concentration of cardiolipin impairs translocation of proteins across the inner membrane, which we hypothesize activates the Rcs pathway through the outer membrane lipoprotein RcsF. Our study demonstrates a molecular connection between the composition of membrane phospholipids and biofilm formation in E. coli and suggests that altering lipid biosynthesis may be a viable approach for altering biofilm formation and possibly other multicellular phenotypes related to bacterial adaptation and survival.IMPORTANCE There is a growing interest in the role of lipid membrane composition in the physiology and adaptation of bacteria. We demonstrate that a reduction in the anionic phospholipid cardiolipin impairs biofilm formation in Escherichia coli cells. Depleting cardiolipin reduced protein translocation across the inner membrane and activated the Rcs envelope stress response. Consequently, cardiolipin depletion produced cells lacking assembled flagella, which impacted their ability to attach to surfaces and seed the earliest stage in biofilm formation. This study provides empirical evidence for the role of anionic phospholipid homeostasis in protein translocation and its effect on biofilm development and highlights modulation of the membrane composition as a potential method of altering bacterial phenotypes related to adaptation and survival.


Escherichia coli ; Rcs signaling; anionic phospholipids; biofilm; cardiolipin; cell membranes; flagella; phosphoinositol kinase; protein translocation

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