The Bacillus subtilis cannibalism toxin SDP collapses the proton motive force and induces autolysis

Mol Microbiol. 2012 May;84(3):486-500. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2012.08038.x. Epub 2012 Apr 2.


Bacillus subtilis SDP is a peptide toxin that kills cells outside the biofilm to support continued growth. We show that purified SDP acts like endogenously produced SDP; it delays sporulation, and the SdpI immunity protein confers SDP resistance. SDP kills a variety of Gram-positive bacteria in the phylum Firmicutes, as well as Escherichia coli with a compromised outer membrane, suggesting it participates in defence of the B. subtilis biofilm against Gram-positive bacteria as well as cannibalism. Fluorescence microscopy reveals that the effect of SDP on cells differs from that of nisin, nigericin, valinomycin and vancomycin-KCl, but resembles that of CCCP, DNP and azide. Indeed, SDP rapidly collapses the PMF as measured by fluorometry and flow cytometry, which triggers the slower process of autolysis. This secondary consequence of SDP treatment is not required for cell death since the autolysin-defective lytC, lytD, lytE, lytF strain fails to be lysed but is nevertheless killed by SDP. Collapsing the PMF is an ideal mechanism for a toxin involved in cannibalism and biofilm defence, since this would incapacitate neighbouring cells by inhibiting motility and secretion of proteins and toxins. It would also induce autolysis in many Gram-positive species, thereby releasing nutrients that promote biofilm growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / chemistry
  • Bacillus subtilis / cytology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Bacillus subtilis / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity
  • Bacteriolysis*
  • Proton-Motive Force* / drug effects


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins