A Single-Cell View of the BtsSR/YpdAB Pyruvate Sensing Network in Escherichia coli and Its Biological Relevance

J. Bacteriol., vol. 200 no. 1 e00536-17, doi: 10.1128/JB.00536-17
J. Bacteriol., online article

Fluctuating environments and individual physiological diversity force bacteria to constantly adapt and optimize the uptake of substrates. We focus here on two very similar two-component systems (TCSs) of Escherichia coli belonging to the LytS/LytTR family: BtsS/BtsR (formerly YehU/YehT) and YpdA/YpdB. Both TCSs respond to extracellular pyruvate, albeit with different affinities, typically during postexponential growth, and each system regulates expression of a single transporter gene, yjiY and yhjX, respectively. To obtain insights into the biological significance of these TCSs, we analyzed the activation of the target promoters at the single-cell level. We found unimodal cell-to-cell variability; however, the degree of variance was strongly influenced by the available nutrients and differed between the two TCSs. We hypothesized that activation of either of the TCSs helps individual cells to replenish carbon resources. To test this hypothesis, we compared wild-type cells with the btsSR ypdAB mutant under two metabolically modulated conditions: protein overproduction and persister formation. Although all wild-type cells were able to overproduce green fluorescent protein (GFP), about half of the btsSR ypdAB population was unable to overexpress GFP. Moreover, the percentage of persister cells, which tolerate antibiotic stress, was significantly lower in the wild-type cells than in the btsSR ypdAB population. Hence, we suggest that the BtsS/BtsR and YpdA/YpdB network contributes to a balancing of the physiological state of all cells within a population.

IMPORTANCE Histidine kinase/response regulator (HK/RR) systems enable bacteria to respond to environmental and physiological fluctuations. Escherichia coli and other members of the Enterobacteriaceae possess two similar LytS/LytTR-type HK/RRs, BtsS/BtsR (formerly YehU/YehT) and YpdA/YpdB, which form a functional network. Both systems are activated in response to external pyruvate, typically when cells face overflow metabolism during post-exponential growth. Single-cell analysis of the activation of their respective target genes yjiY and yhjX revealed cell-to-cell variability, and the range of variation was strongly influenced by externally available nutrients. Based on the phenotypic characterization of a btsSR ypdAB mutant compared to the parental strain, we suggest that this TCS network supports an optimization of the physiological state of the individuals within the population.

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