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J Bacteriol. 1994 Jan;176(2):426-31.

Glycine betaine confers enhanced osmotolerance and cryotolerance on Listeria monocytogenes.

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Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis 95616.


Listeria monocytogenes is a gram-positive food-borne pathogen that is notably resistant to osmotic stress and can grow at refrigerator temperatures. These two characteristics make it an insidious threat to public health. Like several other organisms, L. monocytogenes accumulates glycine betaine, a ubiquitous and effective osmolyte, intracellularly when grown under osmotic stress. However, it also accumulates glycine betaine when grown under chill stress at refrigerator temperatures. Exogenously added glycine betaine enhances the growth rate of stressed but not unstressed cells, i.e., it confers both osmotolerance and cryotolerance. Both salt-stimulated and cold-stimulated accumulation of glycine betaine occur by transport from the medium rather than by biosynthesis. Direct measurement of glycine betaine uptake shows that cells transport betaine 200-fold faster at high salt concentration (4% NaCl) than without added salt and 15-fold faster at 7 than at 30 degrees C. The kinetics of glycine betaine transport suggest that the two transport systems are indistinguishable in terms of affinity for betaine and may be the same. Hyperosmotic shock and cold shock experiments suggest the transport system(s) to be constitutive; activation was not blocked by chloramphenicol. A cold-activated transport system is a novel observation and has intriguing implications concerning the physical state of the cell membrane at low temperature.

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