Adaptation to life at micromolar nutrient levels: the regulation of Escherichia coli glucose transport by endoinduction and cAMP


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Abstract: Free-living bacteria are expert in adapting to variations in nutrient availability, often using an array of transport systems of different affinities to scavenge for particular substrates (multiport). This review concentrates on the regulation of expression of different transporters contributing to multiport in response to varying nutrient levels. A novel mechanism of controlling bacterial transport affinity under sugar limitation is described. In particular, switching from glucose-rich to glucose-limited conditions results in Escherichia coli orchestrating outer membrane changes as well as the induction of a periplasmic binding protein-dependent (ABC-type) transport system. The changes leading to the high affinity transport pathway are directed towards uptake of rapidly utilisable concentrations and are optimal close to 10−6 M medium glucose. High affinity transport is absent under both glucose-rich ‘feast’ and glucose-starved ‘famine’ conditions hence high affinity transporters are not simply repressed by excess nutrient. Rather, the improvement in glucose scavenging involves induction of genes in 2 distinct regulons (mgl/gal and mal/lamB) through synthesis of 2 different endogenous inducer molecules (galactose, maltotriose). Endoinducer levels are tightly controlled by extracellular glucose concentration at different glucose-limited growth rates. Aside from endoinducers, the elevated intracellular level of cAMP plays a role in induction of the high-affinity pathway but CAMP-mediated relief from catabolite repression is not itself sufficient for high affinity transport. In contrast to the repressive role of glucose when present at millimolar concentrations, micromolar glucose also leads to the induction of transport systems for other sugars, further broadening the scavenging potential of nutrient-limited bacteria for other substrates.