Electric fields induce curved growth of Enterobacter cloacae, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus subtilis cells: Implications for mechanisms of galvanotropism and bacterial growth

A. M. Rajnicek*, C. D. McCaig, N. A.R. Gow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Directional growth in response to electric fields (galvanotropism) is known for eukaryotic cells as diverse as fibroblasts, neurons, algae, and fungal hyphae. The mechanism is not understood, but all proposals invoke actin either directly or indirectly. We applied electric fields to bacteria (which are inherently free of actin) to determine whether actin was essential for galvanotropism. Field-treated (but not control) Enterobacter cloacae and Escherichia coli cells curved rapidly toward the anode. The response was both field strength and pH dependent. The direction of curvature was reversed upon reversal of field polarity. The directional growth was not due to passive bending of the cells or to field-induced gradients of tropic substances in the medium. Field-treated Bacillus subtilis cells also curved, but the threshold was much higher than for E. cloacae or E. coli. Since the curved morphology must reflect spatial differences in the rates of cell wall synthesis and degradation, we looked for regions of active wall growth. Experiments in which the cells were decorated with latex beads revealed that the anode-facing ends of cells grew faster than the cathode-facing ends of the same cells. Inhibitors of cell wall synthesis caused spheroplasts to form on the convex regions of field-treated cells, suggesting that the initial curvature resulted from enhanced growth of cathode-facing regions. Our results indicate that an electric field modulates wall growth spatially and that the mechanism may involve differential stimulation of wall growth in both anode- and cathode-facing regions. Electric fields may therefore serve as valuable tools for studies of bacterial wall growth. Use of specific E. coli mutants may allow dissection of the galvanotropic mechanism at the molecular level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)702-713
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Volume176
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1994

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