The different shapes of cocci


  • Editor: Jacques Coyette

Correspondence: Thierry Vernet, Laboratoire d'Ingénierie des Macromolécules, Institut de Biologie Structurale, (CEA/CNRS/UJF UMR5075), 41 rue Jules Horowitz, 38027 Grenoble, France. Tel.: +33 0 4 38 78 96 81; fax: +33 0 4 38 78 54 94; e-mail:


The shape of bacteria is determined by their cell wall and can be very diverse. Even among genera with the suffix ‘cocci’, which are the focus of this review, different shapes exist. While staphylococci or Neisseria cells, for example, are truly round-shaped, streptococci, lactococci or enterococci have an ovoid shape. Interestingly, there seems to be a correlation between the shape of an organism and its set of penicillin-binding proteins – the enzymes that assemble the peptidoglycan, the main constituent of the cell wall. While only one peptidoglycan biosynthesis machinery seems to exist in staphylococci, two of these machineries are proposed to function in ovoid-shaped bacteria, reinforcing the intrinsic differences regarding the morphogenesis of different classes of cocci. The present review aims to integrate older ultra-structural data with recent localization studies, in order to clarify the relation between the mechanisms of cell wall synthesis and the determination of cell shape in various cocci.