Flow cytometry-based enrichment for cell shape mutants identifies multiple genes that influence Helicobacter pylori morphology


  • [This copyright line was revised on 23 May 2014.]


The helical cell shape of Helicobacter pylori is highly conserved and contributes to its ability to swim through and colonize the viscous gastric mucus layer. A multi-faceted peptidoglycan (PG) modification programme involving four recently characterized peptidases and two accessory proteins is essential for maintaining H. pylori's helicity. To expedite identification of additional shape-determining genes, we employed flow cytometry with fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to enrich a transposon library for bacterial cells with altered light scattering profiles that correlate with perturbed cell morphology. After a single round of sorting, 15% of our clones exhibited a stable cell shape defect, reflecting 37-fold enrichment. Sorted clones with straight rod morphology contained insertions in known PG peptidases, as well as an insertion in csd6, which we demonstrated has ld-carboxypeptidase activity and cleaves monomeric tetrapeptides in the PG sacculus, yielding tripeptides. Other mutants had only slight changes in helicity due to insertions in genes encoding MviN/MurJ, a protein possibly involved in initiating PG synthesis, and the hypothetical protein HPG27_782. Our findings demonstrate FACS robustly detects perturbations of bacterial cell shape and identify additional PG peptide modifications associated with helical cell shape in H. pylori.