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Bacterial Cell Wall

  1. Kevin D Young

Published Online: 19 APR 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000297.pub2



How to Cite

Young, K. D. 2010. Bacterial Cell Wall. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 19 APR 2010


Most bacteria are encased in walls that protect the cells against lysis by osmotic forces from within and from chemical or biological assaults from outside. These walls are assembled in layers consisting of four principal components: inner membrane, peptidoglycan, outer membrane and S-layer. The first two are the basic constituents of bacterial walls, the outer membrane is a hallmark of one branch of bacteria and S-layers are optional in many different microorganisms. The two fundamental types of wall are Gram-type positive, which have no outer membrane, and Gram-type negative, which have an outer membrane. Bacteria also produce various secondary polymers, such as teichoic or mycolic acids, that associate with peptidoglycan and alter its chemical characteristics. Finally, and in addition to its protective role, the wall imparts to bacterial cells their specific shapes and is organised to facilitate the transport of vital chemicals into and out of the cell.

Key Concepts:

  • The cell wall protects bacteria from lysis, chemical assault and attack by the immune system.

  • The bacterial cell wall consists of an inner (plasma) membrane, a rigid peptidoglycan exoskeleton and, in some cases, an outer membrane and/or an S-layer.

  • Peptidoglycan is composed of a long chain of repeating disaccharides linked to one another by short peptide side chains, which creates a single macromolecule surrounding the bacterial cell.

  • The biological properties of many bacterial cell walls are strengthened or enhanced by the addition of secondary cell wall glycopolymers.

  • The bacterial world is divided into two main groups: those that have a single membrane (the plasma or inner membrane) and those that have two membranes (inner and outer membranes).

  • S-layers are paracrystalline arrays of a single protein that completely cover the exterior of many bacteria.

  • Bacterial shape is determined by cytoskeleton proteins that direct the synthesis of the overall structure of peptidoglycan.


  • Gram-positive walls;
  • Gram-negative walls;
  • peptidoglycan;
  • teichoic acid;
  • periplasm;
  • periplasmic space;
  • S-layers;
  • cell shape;
  • microscopy