A σW-dependent stress response in Bacillus subtilis that reduces membrane fluidity


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Bacteria respond to physical and chemical stresses that affect the integrity of the cell wall and membrane by activating an intricate cell envelope stress response. The ability of cells to regulate the biophysical properties of the membrane by adjusting fatty acid composition is known as homeoviscous adaptation. Here, we identify a homeoviscous adaptation mechanism in Bacillus subtilis regulated by the extracytoplasmic function σ factor σW. Cell envelope active compounds, including detergents, activate a sense-oriented, σW-dependent promoter within the first gene of the fabHa fabF operon. Activation leads to a decrease in the amount of FabHa coupled with an increase in FabF, the initiation and elongation condensing enzymes of fatty acid biosynthesis respectively. Downregulation of FabHa results in an increased reliance on the FabHb paralogue leading to a greater proportion of straight chain fatty acids in the membrane, and the upregulation of FabF increases the average fatty acid chain length. The net effect is to reduce membrane fluidity. The inactivation of the σW-dependent promoter within fabHa increased sensitivity to detergents and to antimicrobial compounds produced by other Bacillus spp. Thus, the σW stress response provides a mechanism to conditionally decrease membrane fluidity through the opposed regulation of FabHa and FabF.