Enteric bacteria and osmotic stress: intracellular potassium glutamate as a secondary signal of osmotic stress?

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1990 Jun;6(2-3):239-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.1990.tb04097.x.


Enteric bacteria have evolved an impressive array of mechanisms that allow the cell to grow at widely different external osmotic pressures. These serve two linked functions; firstly, they allow the cell to maintain a relatively constant turgor pressure which is essential for cell growth; and secondly they permit changes in cytoplasmic composition such that the accumulation of intracellular osmolytes required to restore turgor pressure does not impair enzyme function. The primary event in turgor regulation is the controlled accumulation of potassium and its counterion glutamate. At high external osmolarities the cytoplasmic levels of potassium glutamate can impair enzyme function. Rapid growth is therefore dependent upon secondary responses, principally the accumulation of compatible solutes, betaine (N-trimethylglycine), proline and trehalose. The accumulation of these solutes is achieved by the controlled activity of transport systems and enzymes in response to changes in external osmotic pressure. It has been proposed that the accumulation of potassium glutamate during turgor regulation acts as a signal for the activation of these systems [1,2]. This brief review will examine the evidence that control over the balance of cytoplasmic osmolytes is achieved by sensing of the intracellular potassium (and glutamate) concentration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Enterobacteriaceae / genetics
  • Enterobacteriaceae / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Glutamates / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Potassium / metabolism*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance*


  • Glutamates
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Potassium