A role for the Gram-negative outer membrane in bacterial shape determinationElayne M. Fivenson, Patricia D. A. Rohs, Andrea Vettiger, Marios F. Sardis, Grasiela Torres, Alison Forchoh, Thomas G. Bernhardt
The cell envelope of Gram-negative bacteria consists of three distinct layers: the cytoplasmic membrane, a cell wall made of peptidoglycan (PG), and an asymmetric outer membrane (OM) composed of phospholipid in the inner leaflet and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) glycolipid in the outer leaflet. The PG layer has long been thought to be the major structural component of the envelope protecting cells from osmotic lysis and providing them with their characteristic shape. In recent years, the OM has also been shown to be a load-bearing layer of the cell surface that fortifies cells against internal turgor pressure. However, whether the OM also plays a role in morphogenesis has remained unclear. Here, we report that changes in LPS synthesis or modification predicted to strengthen the OM can suppress the growth and shape defects of Escherichia coli mutants with reduced activity in a conserved PG synthesis machine called the Rod complex (elongasome) that is responsible for cell elongation and shape determination. Evidence is presented that OM fortification in the shape mutants restores the ability of MreB cytoskeletal filaments to properly orient the synthesis of new cell wall material by the Rod complex. Our results are therefore consistent with a role for the OM in the propagation of rod shape during growth in addition to its well-known function as a diffusion barrier promoting the intrinsic antibiotic resistance of Gram-negative bacteria.