Bacterial biofilms are best described as multi-cellular, usually sessile, bacterial aggregates stabilized by extracellular polysaccharides and are implicated in a number of pathogenic conditions. For example, chronic biofilm infections of Pseudomonas aeruginosa are commonly found in cystic fibrosis patients. Endocarditis, the inflammation of the heart chamber and valve, can be caused by biofilms of Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus viridans, and dental plaques are biofilms of Streptococcus mutans and sanguinis on the surface of the teeth. Biofilm bacteria pose a particular risk to human health because of their low susceptibility to common antibiotics and the host immune system. The polysaccharides typically found in bacterial biofilms include ?-1,6 linked N-acetyl-glucosamine, alginate, and cellulose. By using the bacterial cellulose synthase machinery as a model system, we propose to determine how extracellular polysaccharides are synthesized and transported across the bacterial cell envelope. This process is particularly interesting because extracellular polysaccharides are synthesized inside the cell from nucleotide diphosphate-activated precursors and can grow to several microns in length, yet they are efficiently secreted to reach the site of their biological function. We combine the tools of molecular and structural biology to first, identify the essential components required for cellulose synthesis and membrane translocation, second, to reconstitute cellulose biosynthesis in vitro from purified components, and third, to determine the 3-dimensional structure of the catalytically active subunit of the cellulose synthase complex. We developed a novel in vitro asay for celulose synthesis, demonstrating that the iner membrane components of the cellulose synthase machinery (BcsA and BcsB) are required for celulose synthesis and translocation. While BcsA is the catalytically active subunit, BcsB is an auxiliary subunit that most likely associates with BcsA;however, its precise role during cellulose synthesis is unclear. Therefore, based on our in vitro assay, we propose to define the minimal core of the BcsB subunit required for cellulose synthesis (Aim 1). To ultimately prove that the BcsA and BcsB components are sufficient for cellulose synthesis and translocation, we have to reconstitute the reactions in vitro from purified components. Thus, our second aim is to purify the BcsA and BcsB subunits and to reconstitute cellulose synthesis and membrane translocation in proteoliposomes. To gain mechanistic insights into the process of cellulose biosynthesis, biochemical data obtained from aims 1 and 2 must be integrated with structural information on the key enzymes. Therefore, the third aim of this proposal is to solve the 3-dimensional structure of the cellulose synthase subunit BcsA by x- ray crystallography. Overall, we undertake a multi-disciplinary approach to reveal how one of nature's most abundant polymers is synthesized and translocated across biological membranes.

Public Health Relevance

Pathogenic bacteria pose a risk to human health, in particular upon formation of surface attached, encased aggregates commonly referred to as biofilms. To a large extent, biofilms are stabilized by extracellular polysaccharides and we propose to study, as a model system, the synthesis and secretion of bacterial cellulose. Understanding how biofilms are formed might enable us to prevent pathogenic bacteria from entering this recalcitrant growth phase.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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Biochemistry and Biophysics of Membranes Study Section (BBM)
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Marino, Pamela
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University of Virginia
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Morgan, Jacob L W; McNamara, Joshua T; Fischer, Michael et al. (2016) Observing cellulose biosynthesis and membrane translocation in crystallo. Nature 531:329-34
Knott, Brandon C; Crowley, Michael F; Himmel, Michael E et al. (2016) Simulations of cellulose translocation in the bacterial cellulose synthase suggest a regulatory mechanism for the dimeric structure of cellulose. Chem Sci 7:3108-3116
Poulos, Sandra; Morgan, Jacob L W; Zimmer, Jochen et al. (2015) Bicelles coming of age: an empirical approach to bicelle crystallization. Methods Enzymol 557:393-416
McNamara, Joshua T; Morgan, Jacob L W; Zimmer, Jochen (2015) A molecular description of cellulose biosynthesis. Annu Rev Biochem 84:895-921
Morgan, Jacob L W; McNamara, Joshua T; Zimmer, Jochen (2014) Mechanism of activation of bacterial cellulose synthase by cyclic di-GMP. Nat Struct Mol Biol 21:489-96
Morgan, Jacob L W; Strumillo, Joanna; Zimmer, Jochen (2013) Crystallographic snapshot of cellulose synthesis and membrane translocation. Nature 493:181-6
Sethaphong, Latsavongsakda; Haigler, Candace H; Kubicki, James D et al. (2013) Tertiary model of a plant cellulose synthase. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110:7512-7
Omadjela, Okako; Narahari, Adishesh; Strumillo, Joanna et al. (2013) BcsA and BcsB form the catalytically active core of bacterial cellulose synthase sufficient for in vitro cellulose synthesis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110:17856-61