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Theses Doctoral

Guanosine nucleotides link cell wall metabolism and protein synthesis during entry into quiescence

Diez, Simon

Quiescence, a transitory period of non-growth, is a ubiquitous aspect that is present in all organisms. In addition to being present in all forms of life, quiescence is a feature that has been observed in cells that are important for human health, including stem cells in mammals and antibiotic tolerant cells in bacteria. In bacteria, quiescence per se has recently been suggested to underlie the transient tolerance to a wide range of antibiotics. Furthermore, most microbial life exists in a quiescent state. Despite their prevalence and importance, relatively little is known about the physiology of quiescent bacteria. One aspect of bacterial quiescence that has been repeatedly observed is their lowered metabolic activity compared to actively growing bacteria. How do cells that grow and divide enter into a temporary state of non-growth? In particular, how are the energy-intensive processes that are required for growing cells regulated during a non-growing state? The main subject of this thesis is to investigate how protein synthesis, the most energy-intensive process in growing bacterial cells, is regulated during entry into a quiescent phenotype (stationary phase).

I first investigate how protein synthesis is regulated using a single cell method that fluorescently tags nascent polypeptide chains. In chapter 3, I show that during entry into stationary phase, protein synthesis is downregulated heterogeneously with one group of cells having comparatively low protein synthesis, resulting in a population that is approximately bimodal. I further show that this bimodality is dependent on a signaling system (PrkC and its partner phosphatase PrpC) that senses cell wall metabolism. I connect signaling from this system to the expression of an enzyme (SasA) that produces a group of nucleotides that are major regulators of growth in bacteria ((pp)pGpp). Lastly, I show that the bimodality is dependent on the three enzymes that synthesize (pp)pGpp.

In chapter 4, I explore in detail how the bimodality in protein synthesis is generated. This heterogeneity requires the production of (pp)pGpp by three synthases: SasA, SasB, RelA. I first show that these enzymes differentially affect this bimodality: RelA and SasB are necessary to generate the sub-population exhibiting low protein synthesis, whereas SasA is necessary to generate cells exhibiting comparatively higher protein synthesis. The RelA product (pppGpp) allosterically activates SasB, and I find that the SasA product (pGpp) competitively inhibits this activation. I provide in vivo evidence that this antagonistic interaction mediates the observed heterogeneity in protein synthesis. This chapter, therefore, identifies the mechanism underlying the generation of phenotypic heterogeneity in the central physiological process of protein synthesis.
In chapter 5, I next turn to understand the biochemical mechanism by which cells with comparatively low levels of protein synthesis down-regulate this process. I first show that ppGpp is sufficient to inhibit protein synthesis in vivo. I then show that ppGpp inhibits protein synthesis by inhibiting translation initiation directly by binding to the essential GTPase, Initiation Factor 2 (IF2). In collaboration with Ruben Gonzalez’s lab, we also show that ppGpp prevents the allosteric activation of IF2. Finally, I demonstrate that the observed attenuation of protein synthesis during the entry into quiescence is a consequence of the direct interaction of (pp)pGpp and IF2.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Microbiology, Immunology, and Infection
Thesis Advisors
Dworkin, Jonathan E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 30, 2021