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The RNA processing enzyme polynucleotide phosphorylase negatively controls biofilm formation by repressing poly-N-acetylglucosamine (PNAG) production in Escherichia coli C

Thomas Carzaniga, Davide Antoniani, Gianni Dehò, Federica Briani* and Paolo Landini*

Author affiliations

Department of Biosciences, University of Milan, Via Celoria 26, Milan, 20133, Italy

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2012, 12:270  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-270

Published: 21 November 2012



Transition from planktonic cells to biofilm is mediated by production of adhesion factors, such as extracellular polysaccharides (EPS), and modulated by complex regulatory networks that, in addition to controlling production of adhesion factors, redirect bacterial cell metabolism to the biofilm mode.


Deletion of the pnp gene, encoding polynucleotide phosphorylase, an RNA processing enzyme and a component of the RNA degradosome, results in increased biofilm formation in Escherichia coli. This effect is particularly pronounced in the E. coli strain C-1a, in which deletion of the pnp gene leads to strong cell aggregation in liquid medium. Cell aggregation is dependent on the EPS poly-N-acetylglucosamine (PNAG), thus suggesting negative regulation of the PNAG biosynthetic operon pgaABCD by PNPase. Indeed, pgaABCD transcript levels are higher in the pnp mutant. Negative control of pgaABCD expression by PNPase takes place at mRNA stability level and involves the 5’-untranslated region of the pgaABCD transcript, which serves as a cis-element regulating pgaABCD transcript stability and translatability.


Our results demonstrate that PNPase is necessary to maintain bacterial cells in the planktonic mode through down-regulation of pgaABCD expression and PNAG production.

Biofilm; RNA processing; Degradosome; EPS; Cell adhesion; PNPase