LPS remodeling is an evolved survival strategy for bacteria

Li Y, Powell DA, Shaffer SA, Rasko DA, Pelletier MR, Leszyk JD, Scott AJ, Masoudi A, Goodlett DR, Wang X, Raetz CR, Ernst RK. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012 May 29;109(22):8716-21. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1202908109

Maintenance of membrane function is essential and regulated at the genomic, transcriptional, and translational levels. Bacterial pathogens have a variety of mechanisms to adapt their membrane in response to transmission between environment, vector, and human host. Using a well-characterized model of lipid A diversification (Francisella), we demonstrate temperature-regulated membrane remodeling directed by multiple alleles of the lipid A-modifying N-acyltransferase enzyme, LpxD. Structural analysis of the lipid A at environmental and host temperatures revealed that the LpxD1 enzyme added a 3-OH C18 acyl group at 37 °C (host), whereas the LpxD2 enzyme added a 3-OH C16 acyl group at 18 °C (environment). Mutational analysis of either of the individual Francisella lpxD genes altered outer membrane (OM) permeability, antimicrobial peptide, and antibiotic susceptibility, whereas only the lpxD1-null mutant was attenuated in mice and subsequently exhibited protection against a lethal WT challenge. Additionally, growth-temperature analysis revealed transcriptional control of the lpxD genes and posttranslational control of the LpxD1 and LpxD2 enzymatic activities. These results suggest a direct mechanism for LPS/lipid A-level modifications resulting in alterations of membrane fluidity, as well as integrity and may represent a general paradigm for bacterial membrane adaptation and virulence-state adaptation.