Fine‐tuning of the biophysical properties of biological membranes is essential for adaptation of cells to changing environments. For instance, to lower the negative charge of the lipid bilayer, certain bacteria add lysine to phosphatidylglycerol (PG) converting the net negative charge of PG (−1) to a net positive charge in Lys‐PG (+1). Reducing the net negative charge of the bacterial cell wall is a common strategy used by bacteria to resist cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) secreted by other microbes or produced by the innate immune system of a host organism. The article by Klein et al. in the current issue of Molecular Microbiology reports a new modification of the bacterial membrane, addition of alanine to PG, in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In spite of the neutral charge of Ala‐PG, this modified lipid was found to be linked to several resistance phenotypes in P. aeruginosa. For instance, Ala‐PG increases resistance to two positively charged antibacterial agents, a β‐lactam and high concentrations of lactate. These findings shed light on the mechanisms by which bacteria fine‐tune the properties of their cell membranes by adding various amino acids on the polar head group of phospholipids.
Roy, H., Dare, K. and Ibba, M. (2009) Adaptation of the bacterial membrane to changing environments using aminoacylated phospholipids. Mol. Microbiol. 71, 547-550. https://doi.org10.1111/j.1365-2958.2008.06563.x
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