Inorganic polyphosphate: essential for growth and survival

Annu Rev Biochem. 2009;78:605-47. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.77.083007.093039.


Inorganic polyphosphate (Poly P) is a polymer of tens to hundreds of phosphate residues linked by "high-energy" phosphoanhydride bonds as in ATP. Found in abundance in all cells in nature, it is unique in its likely role in the origin and survival of species. Here, we present extensive evidence that the remarkable properties of Poly P as a polyanion have made it suited for a crucial role in the emergence of cells on earth. Beyond that, Poly P has proved in a variety of ways to be essential for growth of cells, their responses to stresses and stringencies, and the virulence of pathogens. In this review, we pay particular attention to the enzyme, polyphosphate kinase 1 (Poly P kinase 1 or PPK1), responsible for Poly P synthesis and highly conserved in many bacterial species, including 20 or more of the major pathogens. Mutants lacking PPK1 are defective in motility, quorum sensing, biofilm formation, and virulence. Structural studies are cited that reveal the conserved ATP-binding site of PPK1 at atomic resolution and reveal that the site can be blocked with minute concentrations of designed inhibitors. Another widely conserved enzyme is PPK2, which has distinctive kinetic properties and is also implicated in the virulence of some pathogens. Thus, these enzymes, absent in yeast and animals, are novel attractive targets for treatment of many microbial diseases. Still another enzyme featured in this review is one discovered in Dictyostelium discoideum that becomes an actin-like fiber concurrent with the synthesis, step by step, of a Poly P chain made from ATP. The Poly P-actin fiber complex, localized in the cell, lengthens and recedes in response to metabolic signals. Homologs of DdPPK2 are found in pathogenic protozoa and in the alga Chlamydomonas. Beyond the immediate relevance of Poly P as a target for anti-infective drugs, a large variety of cellular operations that rely on Poly P will be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Dictyostelium / enzymology
  • Dictyostelium / physiology
  • Humans
  • Phosphates / chemistry
  • Phosphates / metabolism*


  • Phosphates