A Novel Bacterial Response to an ATP Sequestering Protein in Escherichia coli is controlled by the Stringent Response
Bacteria have been shown to possess a large array of regulatory mechanisms to not just respond to a diverse array of environmental stresses, but to injurious artificial proteins as well. A previous investigation introduced DX, a man-made ATP sequestering protein into Escherichia coli (E. coli) which resulted in the formation of novel endoliposome structures and induced a viable but non-culturable state (VBNC) that was not easily reversed. It was hypothesized that the broadly conserved bacterial stringent response pathway may have been responsible for the observed phenotypic changes. With the goal of unveiling the molecular mechanism behind this novel response, changes in cellular morphology and physiology upon DX expression were assessed in a population of E. coli encoding a dysfunctional relA gene, one of the two genes controlling the induction of the stringent response. It was ultimately shown that RelA directly contributed to cellular filamentation, endoliposome structure formation, and the induction of a VBNC state. While the stringent response has been extensively shown to induce a VBNC state, to our knowledge, relA has not yet been shown to induce filamentation or coordinate the formation of endoliposome structures in bacteria. As the stringent response has been shown to be increasingly involved in antibiotic tolerance, this study provided an exciting opportunity to further characterize this adaptive response pathway to aid in the future development of novel therapeutics. In addition to this, this study continued to highlight that the DX protein may serve one of the first tools to allow for the direct selection of bacteria in a VBNC state by morphologically distinguishing non-culturable cells through cellular filamentation.