A new morphogenesis pathway in bacteria: unbalanced activity of cell wall synthesis machineries leads to coccus-to-rod transition and filamentation in ovococci

Mol Microbiol. 2011 Feb;79(3):759-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07483.x. Epub 2010 Dec 13.


Bacteria display a variety of shapes, which have biological relevance. In most eubacteria, cell shape is maintained by the tough peptidoglycan (PG) layer of the cell wall, the sacculus. The organization of PG synthesis machineries, orchestrated by different cytoskeletal elements, determines the specific shapes of sacculi. In rod-shaped bacteria, the actin-like (MreB) and the tubuline-like (FtsZ) cytoskeletons control synthesis of the sidewall (elongation) and the crosswall (septation) respectively. Much less is known concerning cell morphogenesis in cocci, which lack MreB proteins. While spherical cocci exclusively display septal growth, ovococci additionally display peripheral growth, which is responsible of the slight longitudinal expansion that generates their ovoid shape. Here, we report that the ovococcus Lactococcus lactis has the ability to become rod-shaped. L. lactis IL1403 wild-type cells form long aseptate filaments during both biofilm and planktonic growth in a synthetic medium. Nascent PG insertion and the division protein FtsK localize in multiple peripheral rings regularly spaced along the filaments. We show that filamentation results from septation inhibition, and that penicillin-binding proteins PBP2x and PBP2b play a direct role in this process. We propose a model for filament formation in L. lactis, and discuss the possible biological role of such morphological differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Wall / drug effects
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Cell Wall / ultrastructure
  • Lactococcus / cytology
  • Lactococcus / growth & development*
  • Lactococcus / metabolism*
  • Lactococcus / ultrastructure
  • Methicillin / pharmacology
  • Models, Biological
  • Morphogenesis* / drug effects
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Subcellular Fractions / drug effects


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Methicillin