Open Access Open Badges Research article

The impact of ColRS two-component system and TtgABC efflux pump on phenol tolerance of Pseudomonas putida becomes evident only in growing bacteria

Marta Putrinš, Heili Ilves, Liisa Lilje, Maia Kivisaar and Rita Hõrak*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu, 51010 Tartu, Estonia

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:110  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-110

Published: 14 April 2010



We have recently found that Pseudomonas putida deficient in ColRS two-component system is sensitive to phenol and displays a serious defect on solid glucose medium where subpopulation of bacteria lyses. The latter phenotype is significantly enhanced by the presence of phenol in growth medium. Here, we focused on identification of factors affecting phenol tolerance of the colR-deficient P. putida.


By using transposon mutagenesis approach we identified a set of phenol-tolerant derivatives of colR-deficient strain. Surprisingly, half of independent phenol tolerant clones possessed miniTn5 insertion in the ttgABC operon. However, though inactivation of TtgABC efflux pump significantly enhanced phenol tolerance, it did not affect phenol-enhanced autolysis of the colR mutant on glucose medium indicating that phenol- and glucose-caused stresses experienced by the colR-deficient P. putida are not coupled. Inactivation of TtgABC pump significantly increased the phenol tolerance of the wild-type P. putida as well. Comparison of phenol tolerance of growing versus starving bacteria revealed that both ColRS and TtgABC systems affect phenol tolerance only under growth conditions and not under starvation. Flow cytometry analysis showed that phenol strongly inhibited cell division and to some extent also caused cell membrane permeabilization to propidium iodide. Single cell analysis of populations of the ttgC- and colRttgC-deficient strains revealed that their membrane permeabilization by phenol resembles that of the wild-type and the colR mutant, respectively. However, cell division of P. putida with inactivated TtgABC pump seemed to be less sensitive to phenol than that of the parental strain. At the same time, cell division appeared to be more inhibited in the colR-mutant strain than in the wild-type P. putida.


ColRS signal system and TtgABC efflux pump are involved in the phenol tolerance of P. putida. However, as they affect phenol tolerance of growing bacteria only, this indicates that they participate in the regulation of processes which are active during the growth and/or cell division. Single cell analysis data indicated that the cell division step of cell cycle is particularly sensitive to the toxic effect of phenol and its inhibition can be considered as an adaptive response under conditions of phenol stress.