Biofilm formation in Bacillus subtilis requires the differentiation of a subpopulation of cells responsible for the production of the extracellular matrix that structures the biofilm. Differentiation of matrix-producing cells depends, among other factors, on the FloT and YqfA proteins. These proteins are present exclusively in functional membrane microdomains of B. subtilis and are homologous to the eukaryotic lipid raft-specific flotillin proteins. In the absence of FloT and YqfA, diverse proteins normally localized to the membrane microdomains of B. subtilis are not functional. Here we show that the absence of FloT and YqfA reduces the level of the septal-localized protease FtsH. The flotillin homologues FloT and YqfA are occasionally present at the midcell in exponentially growing cells and the absence of FloT and YqfA negatively affects FtsH concentration. Biochemical experiments indicate a direct interaction between FloT/YqfA and FtsH. Moreover, FtsH is essential for the differentiation of matrix producers and hence, biofilm formation. This molecular trigger of biofilm formation may therefore be used as a target for the design of new biofilm inhibitors. Accordingly, we show that the small protein SpoVM, known to bind to and inhibit FtsH activity, inhibits biofilm formation in B. subtilis and other distantly related bacteria.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.