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Mol Microbiol. 1994 Sep;13(5):911-7.

ppGpp concentration, growth without PBP2 activity, and growth-rate control in Escherichia coli.

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Institut Jacques Monod Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paris 7, France.


Escherichia coli strains partially induced for the stringent response are resistant to mecillinam, a beta-lactam antibiotic which specifically inactivates penicillin-binding protein 2, the key enzyme determining cell shape. We present evidence that mecillinam resistance occurs whenever the intracellular concentration of the nucleotide ppGpp (guanosine 3'-diphosphate 5'-diphosphate), the effector of the stringent response, exceeds a threshold level. First, the ppGpp concentration was higher in a mecillinam-resistant mutant than in closely related sensitive strains. Second, the ppGpp pool was controlled by means of a plasmid carrying a ptac-relA' gene coding for a hyperactive (p)ppGpp synthetase, RelA'; increasing the ppGpp pool by varying the concentration of lac operon inducer IPTG resulted in a sharp threshold ppGpp concentration, above which cells were mecillinam resistant. Third, the ppGpp pool was increased by using poor media; again, at the lowest growth rate studied, the cells were mecillinam resistant. In all experiments, cells with a ppGpp concentration above 140 pmoles/A600 were mecillinam resistant whereas those with lower concentrations were sensitive. We discuss a possible role for ppGpp as transcriptional activator of cell division genes whose products seem to become limiting in the presence of mecillinam, when cells form large spheres. We confirmed the well-known inverse correlation between growth rate and ppGpp concentration but, surprisingly, for a given growth rate, the ppGpp concentration was lower in poor medium than in richer medium in which RelA' is induced. We conclude that, for E. coli growing in poor media, the concentration of the nucleotide ppGpp is not the major growth rate determinant.

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