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Summary

The peptidoglycan (PG) sacculus, a meshwork of polysaccharide strands cross-linked by short peptides, protects bacterial cells against osmotic lysis. To enlarge this covalently closed macromolecule, PG hydrolases must break peptide cross-links in the meshwork to allow insertion of new glycan strands between the existing ones. In the rod-shaped bacterium Bacillus subtilis, cell wall elongation requires two redundant endopeptidases, CwlO and LytE. However, it is not known how these potentially autolytic enzymes are regulated to prevent lethal breaches in the cell wall. Here, we show that the ATP-binding cassette transporter-like FtsEX complex is required for CwlO activity. In Escherichia coli, FtsEX is thought to harness ATP hydrolysis to activate unrelated PG hydrolases during cell division. Consistent with this regulatory scheme, B. subtilis FtsE mutants that are unable to bind or hydrolyse ATP cannot activate CwlO. Finally, we show that in cells depleted of both CwlO and LytE, the PG synthetic machinery continues moving circumferentially until cell lysis, suggesting that cross-link cleavage is not required for glycan strand polymerization. Overall, our data support a model in which the FtsEX complex is a remarkably flexible regulatory module capable of controlling a diverse set of PG hydrolases during growth and division in different organisms.