Open Access Research article

Global transcriptional responses to the bacteriocin colicin M in Escherichia coli

Simona Kamenšek and Darja Žgur-Bertok*

Author affiliations

Department of Biology, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-42

Published: 19 February 2013



Bacteriocins are protein antimicrobial agents that are produced by all prokaryotic lineages. Escherichia coli strains frequently produce the bacteriocins known as colicins. One of the most prevalent colicins, colicin M, can kill susceptible cells by hydrolyzing the peptidoglycan lipid II intermediate, which arrests peptidoglycan polymerization steps and provokes cell lysis. Due to the alarming rise in antibiotic resistance and the lack of novel antimicrobial agents, colicin M has recently received renewed attention as a promising antimicrobial candidate. Here the effects of subinhibitory concentrations of colicin M on whole genome transcription in E. coli were investigated, to gain insight into its ecological role and for purposes related to antimicrobial therapy.


Transcriptome analysis revealed that exposure to subinhibitory concentrations of colicin M altered expression of genes involved in envelope, osmotic and other stresses, including genes of the CreBC two-component system, exopolysaccharide production and cell motility. Nonetheless, there was no induction of biofilm formation or genes involved in mutagenesis.


At subinhibitory concentrations colicin M induces an adaptive response primarily to protect the bacterial cells against envelope stress provoked by peptidoglycan damage. Among the first induced were genes of the CreBC two-component system known to promote increased resistance against colicins M and E2, providing novel insight into the ecology of colicin M production in natural environments. While an adaptive response was induced nevertheless, colicin M application did not increase biofilm formation, nor induce SOS genes, adverse effects that can be provoked by a number of traditional antibiotics, providing support for colicin M as a promising antimicrobial agent.

Antimicrobial agent; Bacteriocin; Colicin M; Escherichia coli; Gene expression; Peptidoglycan