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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1994 May;14(1):3-20.

Adaptation of Escherichia coli to high osmolarity environments: osmoregulation of the high-affinity glycine betaine transport system proU.

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University of Konstanz, Department of Biology, FRG.


A sudden increase in the osmolarity of the environment is highly detrimental to the growth and survival of Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium since it triggers a rapid efflux of water from the cell, resulting in a decreased turgor. Changes in the external osmolarity must therefore be sensed by the microorganisms and this information must be converted into an adaptation process that aims at the restoration of turgor. The physiological reaction of the cell to the changing environmental condition is a highly coordinated process. Loss of turgor triggers a rapid influx of K+ ions into the cell via specific transporters and the concomitant synthesis of counterions, such as glutamate. The increased intracellular concentration of K(+)-glutamate allows the adaptation of the cell to environments of moderately high osmolarities. At high osmolarity, K(+)-glutamate is insufficient to ensure cell growth, and the bacteria therefore replace the accumulated K+ ions with compounds that are less deleterious for the cell's physiology. These compatible solutes include polyoles such as trehalose, amino acids such as proline, and methyl-amines such as glycine betaine. One of the most important compatible solutes for bacteria is glycine betaine. This potent osmoprotectant is widespread in nature, and its intracellular accumulation is achieved through uptake from the environment or synthesis from its precursor choline. In this overview, we discuss the properties of the high-affinity glycine betaine transport system ProU and the osmotic regulation of its structural genes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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