MurJ is the flippase of lipid-linked precursors for peptidoglycan biogenesis

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Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 220-222
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254522

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Building the cell wall is flipping difficult

The cell wall of bacteria is constructed from a polysaccharide called peptidoglycan (PG). It forms a matrix that surrounds cells and is essential for the integrity of the cytoplasmic membrane. Many of our most successful antibiotics target PG synthesis. The synthetic pathway involves the assembly of sugar building blocks on a lipid carrier at the inner face of the cytoplasmic membrane. The reactions that produce this so-called lipid II precursor and the enzymes that catalyze them have been known for decades. However, the identity of the flippase enzyme that “flips” lipid II in the membrane to expose the sugar building blocks on the cell surface for polymerization has remained highly controversial. Sham et al. now show that the essential protein MurJ is the long sought-after flippase responsible for the translocation of lipid-linked cell wall precursors across the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane (see the Perspective by Young). The work completes the cell wall biogenesis pathway and defines the function of an attractive target for new antibiotics.

Science, this issue p. 220; see also p. 139


Peptidoglycan (PG) is a polysaccharide matrix that protects bacteria from osmotic lysis. Inhibition of its biogenesis is a proven strategy for killing bacteria with antibiotics. The assembly of PG requires disaccharide-pentapeptide building blocks attached to a polyisoprene lipid carrier called lipid II. Although the stages of lipid II synthesis are known, the identity of the essential flippase that translocates it across the cytoplasmic membrane for PG polymerization is unclear. We developed an assay for lipid II flippase activity and used a chemical genetic strategy to rapidly and specifically block flippase function. We combined these approaches to demonstrate that MurJ is the lipid II flippase in Escherichia coli.

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