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Evidence that acetyl phosphate functions as a global signal during biofilm development

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Summary

We used DNA macroarray analysis to identify genes that respond to the status of the intracellular acetyl phosphate (acP) pool. Genes whose expression correlated negatively with the ability to synthesize acP (i.e. negatively regulated genes) function primarily in flagella biosynthesis, a result consistent with observations that we published previously (Prüß and Wolfe, 1994, Mol Microbiol 12: 973–984). In contrast, genes whose expression correlated positively with the ability to synthesize acP (i.e. positively regulated genes) include those for type 1 pilus assembly, colanic acid (capsule) biosynthesis and certain stress effectors. To our knowledge, this constitutes the first report that these genes may respond to the status of the intracellular acP pool. Previously, other researchers have implicated flagella, type 1 pili, capsule and diverse stress effectors in the formation of biofilms. We therefore tested whether cells altered in their ability to metabolize acP could construct normal biofilms, and found that they could not. Cells defective for the production of acP and cells defective for the degradation of acP could both form biofilms, but these biofilms exhibited characteristics substantially different from each other and from biofilms formed by their wild-type parent. We confirmed the role of individual cell surface structures, the expression of which appears to correlate with acP levels, in fim or fli mutants that cannot assemble type 1 pili or flagella respectively. Thus, the information gained by expression profiling of cells with altered acP metabolism indicates that acP may help to co-ordinate the expression of surface structures and cellular processes involved in the initial stages of wild-type biofilm development.

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