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Summary

The life cycle of Myxococcus xanthus includes co-ordinated group movement and fruiting body formation, and requires directed motility and controlled cell reversals. Reversals are achieved by inverting cell polarity and re-organizing many motility proteins. The Frz chemosensory pathway regulates the frequency of cell reversals. While it has been established that phosphotransfer from the kinase FrzE to the response regulator FrzZ is required, it is unknown how phosphorylated FrzZ, the putative output of the pathway, targets the cell polarity axis. In this study, we used Phos-tag SDS-PAGE to determine the cellular level of phospho-FrzZ under different growth conditions and in Frz signalling mutants. We detected consistent FrzZ phosphorylation, albeit with a short half-life, in cells grown on plates, but not from liquid culture. The available pool of phospho-FrzZ correlated with reversal frequencies, with higher levels found in hyper-reversing mutants. Phosphorylation was not detected in hypo-reversing mutants. Fluorescence microscopy revealed that FrzZ is recruited to the leading cell pole upon phosphorylation and switches to the opposite pole during reversals. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the Frz pathway modulates reversal frequency through a localized response regulator that targets cell polarity regulators at the leading cell pole.