Open Access Open Badges Research article

The ColRS system is essential for the hunger response of glucose-growing Pseudomonas putida

Marta Putrinš, Andres Ainelo, Heili Ilves and Rita Hõrak*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu, Riia 23, Tartu, Estonia

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-170

Published: 26 July 2011



The survival of bacteria largely depends on signaling systems that coordinate cell responses to environmental cues. Previous studies on the two-component ColRS signal system in Pseudomonas putida revealed a peculiar subpopulation lysis phenotype of colR mutant that grows on solid glucose medium. Here, we aimed to clarify the reasons for the lysis of bacteria.


We present evidence that the lysis defect of P. putida colR mutant is linked to hunger response. A subpopulation prone to lysis was located in the periphery of bacterial cultures growing on solid medium. Cell lysis was observed in glucose-limiting, but not in glucose-rich conditions. Furthermore, lysis was also alleviated by exhaustion of glucose from the medium which was evidenced by a lower lysis of central cells compared to peripheral ones. Thus, lysis takes place at a certain glucose concentration range that most probably provides bacteria a hunger signal. An analysis of membrane protein pattern revealed several hunger-induced changes in the bacterial outer membrane: at glucose limitation the amount of OprB1 channel protein was significantly increased whereas that of OprE was decreased. Hunger-induced up-regulation of OprB1 correlated in space and time with the lysis of the colR mutant, indicating that hunger response is detrimental to the colR-deficient bacteria. The amount of OprB1 is controlled post-transcriptionally and derepression of OprB1 in glucose-limiting medium depends at least partly on the carbon catabolite regulator protein Crc. The essentiality of ColR in hunger response can be bypassed by reducing the amount of certain outer membrane proteins. In addition to depletion of OprB1, the lysis defect of colR mutant can be suppressed by the down-regulation of OprF levels and the hindering of SecB-dependent protein secretion.


We show that Pseudomonas putida growing on solid glucose medium adapts to glucose limitation through up-regulation of the sugar channel protein OprB1 that probably allows enhanced acquisition of a limiting nutrient. However, to survive such hunger response bacteria need signalling by the ColRS system. Hence, the ColRS system should be considered a safety factor in hunger response that ensures the welfare of the cell membrane during the increased expression of certain membrane proteins.