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Second messenger–mediated tactile response by a bacterial rotary motor

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Science  27 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6362, pp. 531-534
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5353

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Elucidating a bacterial sense of touch

Bacteria can adhere to surfaces within the host. This leads to tissue colonization, induction of virulence, and eventually the formation of biofilms—multicellular bacterial communities that resist antibiotics and clearance by the immune system (see the Perspective by Hughes and Berg). Hug et al. show that bacteria have a sense of touch that allows them to change their behavior rapidly when encountering surfaces. This tactile sensing makes use of the inner components of the flagellum, a rotary motor powered by proton motif force that facilitates swimming toward surfaces. Thus, the multifunctional flagellar motor is a mechanosensitive device that promotes surface adaptation. In complementary work, Ellison et al. elucidate the role of bacterial pili in a similar surface-sensing role.

Science, this issue p. 531, p. 535; see also p. 446

Abstract

When bacteria encounter surfaces, they respond with surface colonization and virulence induction. The mechanisms of bacterial mechanosensation and downstream signaling remain poorly understood. Here, we describe a tactile sensing cascade in Caulobacter crescentus in which the flagellar motor acts as sensor. Surface-induced motor interference stimulated the production of the second messenger cyclic diguanylate by the motor-associated diguanylate cyclase DgcB. This led to the allosteric activation of the glycosyltransferase HfsJ to promote rapid synthesis of a polysaccharide adhesin and surface anchoring. Although the membrane-embedded motor unit was essential for surface sensing, mutants that lack external flagellar structures were hypersensitive to mechanical stimuli. Thus, the bacterial flagellar motor acts as a tetherless sensor reminiscent of mechanosensitive channels.

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