Pseudomonas aeruginosa thrives in many aqueous environments and is an opportunistic pathogen that can cause both acute and chronic infections. Environmental conditions and host defenses cause differing stresses on the bacteria, and to survive in vastly different environments, P. aeruginosa must be able to adapt to its surroundings. One strategy for bacterial adaptation is to self-encapsulate with matrix material, primarily composed of secreted extracellular polysaccharides. P. aeruginosa has the genetic capacity to produce at least three secreted polysaccharides; alginate, Psl, and Pel. These polysaccharides differ in chemical structure and in their biosynthetic mechanisms. Since alginate is often associated with chronic pulmonary infections, its biosynthetic pathway is the best characterized. However, alginate is only produced by a subset of P. aeruginosa strains. Most environmental and other clinical isolates secrete either Pel or Psl. Little information is available on the biosynthesis of these polysaccharides. Here, we review the literature on the alginate biosynthetic pathway, with emphasis on recent findings describing the structure of alginate biosynthetic proteins. This information combined with the characterization of the domain architecture of proteins encoded on the Psl and Pel operons allowed us to make predictive models for the biosynthesis of these two polysaccharides. The results indicate that alginate and Pel share certain features, including some biosynthetic proteins with structurally or functionally similar properties. In contrast, Psl biosynthesis resembles the EPS/CPS capsular biosynthesis pathway of Escherichia coli, where the Psl pentameric subunits are assembled in association with an isoprenoid lipid carrier. These models and the environmental cues that cause the cells to produce predominantly one polysaccharide over the others are subjects of current investigation.
Keywords: Pel polysaccharide; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Psl polysaccharide; Rossmann fold; alginate; glycosyltransferase.