Bacterial peptidoglycan (PG or murein) is a single, large, covalently cross-linked macromolecule and forms a mesh-like sacculus that completely encases the cytoplasmic membrane. Hence, growth of a bacterial cell is intimately coupled to expansion of murein sacculus and requires cleavage of pre-existing cross-links for incorporation of new murein material. Although, conceptualized nearly five decades ago, the mechanism of such essential murein cleavage activity has not been studied so far. Here, we identify three new murein hydrolytic enzymes in Escherichia coli, two (Spr and YdhO) belonging to the NlpC/P60 peptidase superfamily and the third (YebA) to the lysostaphin family of proteins that cleave peptide cross-bridges between glycan chains. We show that these hydrolases are redundantly essential for bacterial growth and viability as a conditional mutant lacking all the three enzymes is unable to incorporate new murein and undergoes rapid lysis upon shift to restrictive conditions. Our results indicate the step of cross-link cleavage as essential for enlargement of the murein sacculus, rendering it a novel target for development of antibacterial therapeutic agents.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.