How Do Bacteria Sense and Respond to Low Temperature?

Arch Microbiol. 2010 Feb;192(2):85-95. doi: 10.1007/s00203-009-0539-y. Epub 2010 Jan 5.


Rigidification of the membrane appears to be the primary signal perceived by a bacterium when exposed to low temperature. The perception and transduction of the signal then occurs through a two-component signal transduction pathway consisting of a membrane-associated sensor and a cytoplasmic response regulator and as a consequence a set of cold-regulated genes are activated. In addition, changes in DNA topology due to change in temperature may also trigger cold-responsive mechanisms. Inducible proteins thus accumulated repair the damage caused by cold stress. For example, the fluidity of the rigidified membrane is restored by altering the levels of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, by altering the fatty acid chain length, by changing the proportion of cis to trans fatty acids and by changing the proportion of anteiso to iso fatty acids. Bacteria could also achieve membrane fluidity changes by altering the protein content of the membrane and by altering the levels of the type of carotenoids synthesized. Changes in RNA secondary structure, changes in translation and alteration in protein conformation could also act as temperature sensors. This review highlights the various strategies by which bacteria senses low temperature signal and as to how it responds to the change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Fatty Acids