Modulation of bacterial outer membrane vesicle production by envelope structure and content.


BACKGROUND: Vesiculation is a ubiquitous secretion process of Gram-negative bacteria, where outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) are small spherical particles on the order of 50 to 250 nm composed of outer membrane (OM) and lumenal periplasmic content. Vesicle functions have been elucidated in some detail, showing their importance in virulence factor secretion, bacterial survival, and biofilm formation in pathogenesis. Furthermore, OMVs serve as an envelope stress response, protecting the secreting bacteria from internal protein misfolding stress, as well as external envelope stressors. Despite their important functional roles very little is known about the regulation and mechanism of vesicle production. Based on the envelope architecture and prior characterization of the hypervesiculation phenotypes for mutants lacking the lipoprotein, Lpp, which is involved in the covalent OM-peptidoglycan (PG) crosslinks, it is expected that an inverse relationship exists between OMV production and PG-crosslinked Lpp. RESULTS: In this study, we found that subtle modifications of PG remodeling and crosslinking modulate OMV production, inversely correlating with bound Lpp levels. However, this inverse relationship was not found in strains in which OMV production is driven by an increase in "periplasmic pressure" resulting from the accumulation of protein, PG fragments, or lipopolysaccharide. In addition, the characterization of an nlpA deletion in backgrounds lacking either Lpp- or OmpA-mediated envelope crosslinks demonstrated a novel role for NlpA in envelope architecture. CONCLUSIONS: From this work, we conclude that OMV production can be driven by distinct Lpp concentration-dependent and Lpp concentration-independent pathways.





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Schwechheimer, Carmen, Adam Kulp and Meta J Kuehn (2014). Modulation of bacterial outer membrane vesicle production by envelope structure and content. BMC Microbiol, 14. p. 324. 10.1186/s12866-014-0324-1 Retrieved from

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Margarethe Joanna Kuehn

Associate Professor of Biochemistry

Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) causes traveler's diarrhea and infant mortality in underdeveloped countries, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen for immunocompromised patients. Like all gram negative bacteria studied to date, ETEC and P. aeruginosa produce small outer membrane vesicles that can serve as delivery "bombs" to host tissues. Vesicles contain a subset of outer membrane and soluble periplasmic proteins and lipids. In tissues and sera of infected hosts, vesicles have been observed to bud from the pathogen and come in close contact with epithelial cells. Despite their association with disease, the ability of pathogenic bacteria to distribute an arsenal of virulence factors to the host cells via vesicles remains relatively unexplored.

In our lab, we focus on the genetic, biochemical and functional features of bacterial vesicle production. Using a genetic screen, we have identified genes essential in the vesiculation process, we have identified specific proteins that are enriched in vesicles, and we have identified critical molecules that govern the internalization of vesicles into host cells. Using biochemical analysis of purified vesicles from cell-free culture supernatants, we have found that heat-labile enterotoxin, an important virulence factor of ETEC, is exported from the cells bound to the external surface of vesicles. Presented in this context, it is able to mediate the entry of the entire ETEC vesicle into human colorectal tissue culture cells. We have also discovered that the ability of vesicles to bind to specific cell types depends on their strain of origin: for example, P. aeruginosa vesicles produced by a strain that was cultured from the lungs of a patient with Cystic Fibrosis adhered better to lung than to gut epithelial cells, whereas a strain that was isolated from sera showed no such preference for lung cells. The vesicles stimulate epithelial cells and macrophages to elicit a cytokine response that is distinct from that of LPS (a major component of the vesicles) alone.

These studies will provide new insights into the membrane dynamics of gram-negative bacteria and consequently aid in the identification of new therapeutic targets for important human pathogens.

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