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MreB forms subdiffraction nanofilaments during active growth in Bacillus subtilis

Abstract : The actin-like MreB protein is a key player of the machinery controlling the elongation and maintenance of the cell shape of most rod-shaped bacteria. This protein is known to be highly dynamic, moving along the short axis of cells, presumably reflecting the movement of cell wall synthetic machineries during the enzymatic assembly of the peptidoglycan mesh. The ability of MreB proteins to form polymers is not debated, but their structure, length, and conditions of establishment have remained unclear and the subject of conflicting reports. Here we analyze various strains of Bacillus subtilis, the model for Gram-positive bacteria, and we show that MreB forms subdiffraction-limited, less than 200 nm-long nanofilaments on average during active growth, while micron-long filaments are a consequence of artificial overaccumulation of the protein. Our results also show the absence of impact of the size of the filaments on their speed, orientation, and other dynamic properties conferring a large tolerance to B. subtilis toward the levels and consequently the lengths of MreB polymers. Our data indicate that the density of mobile filaments remains constant in various strains regardless of their MreB levels, suggesting that another factor determines this constant.IMPORTANCE The construction of the bacterial cell envelope is a fundamental topic, as it confers its integrity to bacteria and is consequently the target of numerous antibiotics. MreB is an essential protein suspected to regulate the cell wall synthetic machineries. Despite two decades of study, its localization remains the subject of controversies, its description ranging from helical filaments spanning the entire cell to small discrete entities. The true structure of these filaments is important because it impacts the model describing how the machineries building the cell wall are associated, how they are coordinated at the scale of the entire cell, and how MreB mediates this regulation. Our results shed light on this debate, revealing the size of native filaments in B. subtilis during growth. They argue against models where MreB filament size directly affects the speed of synthesis of the cell wall and where MreB would coordinate distant machineries along the side wall.
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Cyrille Billaudeau, Zhizhong Yao, Charlène Cornilleau, Rut Carballido-Lopez, Arnaud Chastanet. MreB forms subdiffraction nanofilaments during active growth in Bacillus subtilis. mBio, American Society for Microbiology, 2019, 10 (1), pp.e01879-18. ⟨10.1128/mBio.01879-18⟩. ⟨hal-02622137⟩

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