Justin Sonnenburg, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
The actin family of cytoskeletal proteins is essential to the physiology of virtually all archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes. While X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy have revealed structural homologies among actin-family proteins, these techniques cannot probe molecular-scale conformational dynamics. Here, we use all-atom molecular dynamic simulations to reveal conserved dynamical behaviors in four prokaryotic actin homologs: MreB, FtsA, ParM, and crenactin. We demonstrate that the majority of the conformational dynamics of prokaryotic actins can be explained by treating the four subdomains as rigid bodies. MreB, ParM, and FtsA monomers exhibited nucleotide-dependent dihedral and opening angles, while crenactin monomer dynamics were nucleotide-independent. We further show that the opening angle of ParM is sensitive to a specific interaction between subdomains. Steered molecular dynamics simulations of MreB, FtsA, and crenactin dimers revealed that changes in subunit dihedral angle lead to intersubunit bending or twist, suggesting a conserved mechanism for regulating filament structure. Taken together, our results provide molecular-scale insights into the nucleotide and polymerization dependencies of the structure of prokaryotic actins, suggesting mechanisms for how these structural features are linked to their diverse functions.
View details for PubMedID 30951524
In the rod-shaped bacterium Escherichia coli, the actin-like protein MreB localizes in a curvature-dependent manner and spatially coordinates cell-wall insertion to maintain cell shape, although the molecular mechanism by which cell width is regulated remains unknown. Here we demonstrate that the membrane protein RodZ regulates the biophysical properties of MreB and alters the spatial organization of E. coli cell-wall growth. The relative expression levels of MreB and RodZ change in a manner commensurate with variations in growth rate and cell width, and RodZ systematically alters the curvature-based localization of MreB and cell width in a concentration-dependent manner. We identify MreB mutants that alter the bending properties of MreB filaments in molecular dynamics simulations similar to RodZ binding, and show that these mutants rescue rod-like shape in the absence of RodZ alone or in combination with wild-type MreB. Thus, E. coli can control its shape and dimensions by differentially regulating RodZ and MreB to alter the patterning of cell-wall insertion, highlighting the rich regulatory landscape of cytoskeletal molecular biophysics.
View details for PubMedID 29599448
Cell shape matters across the kingdoms of life, and cells have the remarkable capacity to define and maintain specific shapes and sizes. But how are the shapes of micron-sized cells determined from the coordinated activities of nanometer-sized proteins? Here, we review general principles that have surfaced through the study of rod-shaped bacterial growth. Imaging approaches have revealed that polymers of the actin homolog MreB play a central role. MreB both senses and changes cell shape, thereby generating a self-organizing feedback system for shape maintenance. At the molecular level, structural and computational studies indicate that MreB filaments exhibit tunable mechanical properties that explain their preference for certain geometries and orientations along the cylindrical cell body. We illustrate the regulatory landscape of rod-shape formation and the connectivity between cell shape, cell growth, and other aspects of cell physiology. These discoveries provide a framework for future investigations into the architecture and construction of microbes.
View details for PubMedID 29522748
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5846203
View details for Web of Science ID 000430450000393
Size is a universally defining characteristic of all living cells and tissues and is intrinsically linked with cell genotype, growth, and physiology. Many mutations have been identified to alter cell size, but pleiotropic effects have largely hampered our ability to probe how cell size specifically affects fundamental cellular properties, such as DNA content and intracellular localization. To systematically interrogate the impact of cell morphology on bacterial physiology, we used fluorescence-activated cell sorting to enrich a library of hundreds of Escherichia coli mutants in the essential cytoskeletal protein MreB for subtle changes in cell shape, cumulatively spanning ∼5-fold variation in average cell volume. Critically, pleiotropic effects in the mutated library are most likely minimized because only one gene was mutated and because growth rate was unaffected, thereby allowing us to query the general effects of morphology on cellular physiology over a large range of cell sizes with high resolution. We discovered linear scaling of the abundance of DNA and the key division protein FtsZ with cell volume, a strong dependency of sensitivity to specific antibiotics on cell width, and a simple correlation between MreB localization pattern and cell width. Our systematic, quantitative approach reveals complex and dynamic links between bacterial morphology and physiology and should be generally applicable for probing size-related genotype-phenotype relationships.
View details for PubMedID 29103935
The determination and regulation of cell morphology are critical components of cell-cycle control, fitness, and development in both single-cell and multicellular organisms. Understanding how environmental factors, chemical perturbations, and genetic differences affect cell morphology requires precise, unbiased, and validated measurements of cell-shape features.Here we introduce two software packages, Morphometrics and BlurLab, that together enable automated, computationally efficient, unbiased identification of cells and morphological features. We applied these tools to bacterial cells because the small size of these cells and the subtlety of certain morphological changes have thus far obscured correlations between bacterial morphology and genotype. We used an online resource of images of the Keio knockout library of nonessential genes in the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli to demonstrate that cell width, width variability, and length significantly correlate with each other and with drug treatments, nutrient changes, and environmental conditions. Further, we combined morphological classification of genetic variants with genetic meta-analysis to reveal novel connections among gene function, fitness, and cell morphology, thus suggesting potential functions for unknown genes and differences in modes of action of antibiotics.Morphometrics and BlurLab set the stage for future quantitative studies of bacterial cell shape and intracellular localization. The previously unappreciated connections between morphological parameters measured with these software packages and the cellular environment point toward novel mechanistic connections among physiological perturbations, cell fitness, and growth.
View details for DOI 10.1186/s12915-017-0348-8
View details for PubMedID 28222723
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5320674
Single-cell microscopy is a powerful tool for studying gene functions using strain libraries, but it suffers from throughput limitations. Here we describe the Strain Library Imaging Protocol (SLIP), which is a high-throughput, automated microscopy workflow for large strain collections that requires minimal user involvement. SLIP involves transferring arrayed bacterial cultures from multiwell plates onto large agar pads using inexpensive replicator pins and automatically imaging the resulting single cells. The acquired images are subsequently reviewed and analyzed by custom MATLAB scripts that segment single-cell contours and extract quantitative metrics. SLIP yields rich data sets on cell morphology and gene expression that illustrate the function of certain genes and the connections among strains in a library. For a library arrayed on 96-well plates, image acquisition can be completed within 4 min per plate.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nprot.2016.181
View details for PubMedID 28125106
The peptidoglycan cell wall is an integral organelle critical for bacterial cell shape and stability. Proper cell wall construction requires the interaction of synthesis enzymes and the cytoskeleton, but it is unclear how the activities of individual proteins are coordinated to preserve the morphology and integrity of the cell wall during growth. To elucidate this coordination, we used single-molecule imaging to follow the behaviours of the two major peptidoglycan synthases in live, elongating Escherichia coli cells and after perturbation. We observed heterogeneous localization dynamics of penicillin-binding protein (PBP) 1A, the synthase predominantly associated with cell wall elongation, with individual PBP1A molecules distributed between mobile and immobile populations. Perturbations to PBP1A activity, either directly through antibiotics or indirectly through PBP1A's interaction with its lipoprotein activator or other synthases, shifted the fraction of mobile molecules. Our results suggest that multiple levels of regulation control the activity of enzymes to coordinate peptidoglycan synthesis.
View details for DOI 10.1038/ncomms13170
View details for Web of Science ID 000385916600001
View details for PubMedID 27774981
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5078992
Essential gene functions underpin the core reactions required for cell viability, but their contributions and relationships are poorly studied in vivo. Using CRISPR interference, we created knockdowns of every essential gene in Bacillus subtilis and probed their phenotypes. Our high-confidence essential gene network, established using chemical genomics, showed extensive interconnections among distantly related processes and identified modes of action for uncharacterized antibiotics. Importantly, mild knockdown of essential gene functions significantly reduced stationary-phase survival without affecting maximal growth rate, suggesting that essential protein levels are set to maximize outgrowth from stationary phase. Finally, high-throughput microscopy indicated that cell morphology is relatively insensitive to mild knockdown but profoundly affected by depletion of gene function, revealing intimate connections between cell growth and shape. Our results provide a framework for systematic investigation of essential gene functions in vivo broadly applicable to diverse microorganisms and amenable to comparative analysis.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2016.05.003
View details for Web of Science ID 000377045400021
View details for PubMedID 27238023
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4894308
Gram-negative bacteria balance synthesis of the outer membrane (OM), cell wall, and cytoplasmic contents during growth via unknown mechanisms. Here, we show that a dominant mutation (designated mlaA*, maintenance of lipid asymmetry) that alters MlaA, a lipoprotein that removes phospholipids from the outer leaflet of the OM of Escherichia coli, increases OM permeability, lipopolysaccharide levels, drug sensitivity, and cell death in stationary phase. Surprisingly, single-cell imaging revealed that death occurs after protracted loss of OM material through vesiculation and blebbing at cell-division sites and compensatory shrinkage of the inner membrane, eventually resulting in rupture and slow leakage of cytoplasmic contents. The death of mlaA* cells was linked to fatty acid depletion and was not affected by membrane depolarization, suggesting that lipids flow from the inner membrane to the OM in an energy-independent manner. Suppressor analysis suggested that the dominant mlaA* mutation activates phospholipase A, resulting in increased levels of lipopolysaccharide and OM vesiculation that ultimately undermine the integrity of the cell envelope by depleting the inner membrane of phospholipids. This novel cell-death pathway suggests that balanced synthesis across both membranes is key to the mechanical integrity of the Gram-negative cell envelope.
View details for PubMedID 26929379