Article

Single-Cell Census of Mechanosensitive Channels in Living Bacteria

University of Groningen, Netherlands
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 03/2012; 7(3):e33077. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033077
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Bacteria are subjected to a host of different environmental stresses. One such insult occurs when cells encounter changes in the osmolarity of the surrounding media resulting in an osmotic shock. In recent years, a great deal has been learned about mechanosensitive (MS) channels which are thought to provide osmoprotection in these circumstances by opening emergency release valves in response to membrane tension. However, even the most elementary physiological parameters such as the number of MS channels per cell, how MS channel expression levels influence the physiological response of the cells, and how this mean number of channels varies from cell to cell remain unanswered. In this paper, we make a detailed quantitative study of the expression of the mechanosensitive channel of large conductance (MscL) in different media and at various stages in the growth history of bacterial cultures. Using both quantitative fluorescence microscopy and quantitative Western blots our study complements earlier electrophysiology-based estimates and results in the following key insights: i) the mean number of channels per cell is much higher than previously estimated, ii) measurement of the single-cell distributions of such channels reveals marked variability from cell to cell and iii) the mean number of channels varies under different environmental conditions. The regulation of MscL expression displays rich behaviors that depend strongly on culturing conditions and stress factors, which may give clues to the physiological role of MscL. The number of stress-induced MscL channels and the associated variability have far reaching implications for the in vivo response of the channels and for modeling of this response. As shown by numerous biophysical models, both the number of such channels and their variability can impact many physiological processes including osmoprotection, channel gating probability, and channel clustering.

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    ABSTRACT: Bacterial mechanosensitive channels sense the changes in lateral tension in the bilayer of the cytoplasmic membrane generated by rapid water flow into the cell. Two major structural families are found widely distributed across bacteria and archaea: MscL and MscS. Our understanding of the mechanisms of gating has advanced rapidly through genetic analysis, structural biology and electrophysiology. It is only recently that the analysis of the physiological roles of the channels has kept pace with mechanistic studies. Recent advances have increased our understanding of the role of the channels in preventing structural perturbation during osmotic transitions and its relationship to water flow across the membrane. It is to these recent developments that this review is dedicated.
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    ABSTRACT: Mechanosensitive (MS) channels allow cells to sense and respond to environmental changes. In bacteria, these channels are believed to protect against an osmotic shock. The physiological function of these channels has been primarily characterized by a standardized assay, where aliquots of batch cultured cells are rapidly pipetted into a hypotonic medium. Under this method, it has been inferred many types of MS channels (MscS homologs in E. coli) demonstrate limited effectiveness against shock, typically rescuing less than ∼10% of the cells when expressed at native levels. We introduce a single-cell based assay which allows us to control how fast the osmolarity changes, over time scales ranging from a fraction of second to several minutes. We find that the protection provided by MS channels depends strongly on the rate of osmotic change, revealing that, under a slow enough osmotic drop, MscS homologs can lead to survival rates comparable to those found in wild-type strains. Further, after the osmotic downshift, we observe multiple death phenotypes, which are inconsistent with the prevailing paradigm of how cells lyse. Both of these findings require a re-evaluation of our basic understanding of the physiology of MS channels.
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Bacterial mechanosensitive channels sense the changes in lateral tension in the bilayer of the cytoplasmic membrane generated by rapid water flow into the cell. Two major structural families are found widely distributed across bacteria and archaea: MscL and MscS. Our understanding of the mechanisms of gating has advanced rapidly through genetic analysis, structural biology and electrophysiology. It is only recently that the analysis of the physiological roles of the channels has kept pace with mechanistic studies. Recent advances have increased our understanding of the role of the channels in preventing structural perturbation during osmotic transitions and its relationship to water flow across the membrane. It is to these recent developments that this review is dedicated.

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