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Biochem J. 1973 Jan;132(1):83-93.

The function of teichoic acids in cation control in bacterial membranes.


1. The effects of teichoic acids on the Mg(2+)-requirement of some membrane-bound enzymes in cell preparations from Bacillus licheniformis A.T.C.C. 9945 were examined. 2. The biosynthesis of the wall polymers poly(glycerol phosphate glucose) and poly(glycerol phosphate) by membrane-bound enzymes is strongly dependent on Mg(2+), showing maximum activity at 10-15mm-Mg(2+). 3. When the membrane is in close contact with the cell wall and membrane teichoic acid, the enzyme systems are insensitive to added Mg(2+). The membrane appears to interact preferentially with the constant concentration of Mg(2+) that is bound to the phosphate groups of teichoic acid in the wall and on the membrane. When the wall is removed by the action of lysozyme the enzymes again become dependent on an external supply of Mg(2+). 4. A membrane preparation that retained its membrane teichoic acid was still dependent on Mg(2+) in solution, but the dependence was damped so that the enzymes exhibited near-maximal activity over a much greater range of concentrations of added Mg(2+); this preparation contained Mg(2+) bound to the membrane teichoic acid. The behaviour of this preparation could be reproduced by binding membrane teichoic acid to membranes in the presence of Mg(2+). Addition of membrane teichoic acid to reaction mixtures also had a damping effect on the Mg(2+) requirement of the enzymes, since the added polymer interacted rapidly with the membrane. 5. Other phosphate polymers behaved in a qualitatively similar way to membrane teichoic acid on addition to reaction mixtures. 6. It is concluded that in whole cells the ordered array of anionic wall and membrane teichoic acids provides a constant reservoir of bound bivalent cations with which the membrane preferentially interacts. The membrane teichoic acid is the component of the system which mediates the interaction of bound cations with the membrane. The anionic polymers in the wall scavenge cations from the medium and maintain a constant environment for the membrane teichoic acid. Thus a function of wall and membrane teichoic acids is to maintain the correct ionic environment for cation-dependent membrane systems.

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