Mechanism of membrane fluidity optimization: isothermal control of the Bacillus subtilis acyl-lipid desaturase

Mol Microbiol. 2002 Sep;45(5):1379-88. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2002.03103.x.


The Des pathway of Bacillus subtilis regulates the expression of the acyl-lipid desaturase, Des, thereby controlling the synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs) from saturated phospholipid precursors. Previously, we showed that the master switch for the Des pathway is a two-component regulatory system composed of a membrane-associated kinase, DesK, and a soluble transcriptional regulator, DesR, which stringently controls transcription of the des gene. Activation of this pathway takes place when cells are shifted to low growth temperature. Here, we report on the mechanism by which isoleucine regulates the Des pathway. We found that exogenous isoleucine sources, as well as its alpha-keto acid derivative, which is a branched-chain fatty acid precursor, negatively regulate the expression of the des gene at 37 degrees C. The DesK-DesR two-component system mediates this response, as both partners are required to sense and transduce the isoleucine signal at 37 degrees C. Fatty acid profiles strongly indicate that isoleucine affects the signalling state of the DesK sensor protein by dramatically increasing the incorporation of the lower-melting-point anteiso-branched-chain fatty acids into membrane phospholipids. We propose that both a decrease in membrane fluidity at constant temperature and a temperature downshift induce des by the same mechanism. Thus, the Des pathway would provide a novel mechanism to optimize membrane lipid fluidity at a constant temperature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Bacillus subtilis / metabolism*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / biosynthesis
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Genes, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Histidine Kinase
  • Isoleucine / pharmacology
  • Membrane Fluidity / genetics
  • Membrane Fluidity / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Temperature
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Isoleucine
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • Protein Kinases
  • Histidine Kinase