A shift in the dominant phenotype governs the pH-induced metabolic switch of Clostridium acetobutylicumin phosphate-limited continuous cultures

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2013 Jul;97(14):6451-66. doi: 10.1007/s00253-013-4860-7. Epub 2013 May 3.


In response to changing extracellular pH levels, phosphate-limited continuous cultures of Clostridium acetobutylicum reversibly switches its metabolism from the dominant formation of acids to the prevalent production of solvents. Previous experimental and theoretical studies have revealed that this pH-induced metabolic switch involves a rearrangement of the intracellular transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic composition of the clostridial cells. However, the influence of the population dynamics on the observations reported has so far been neglected. Here, we present a method for linking the pH shift, clostridial growth and the acetone-butanol-ethanol fermentation metabolic network systematically into a model which combines the dynamics of the external pH and optical density with a metabolic model. Furthermore, the recently found antagonistic expression pattern of the aldehyde/alcohol dehydrogenases AdhE1/2 and pH-dependent enzyme activities have been included into this combined model. Our model predictions reveal that the pH-induced metabolic shift under these experimental conditions is governed by a phenotypic switch of predominantly acidogenic subpopulation towards a predominantly solventogenic subpopulation. This model-driven explanation of the pH-induced shift from acidogenesis to solventogenesis by population dynamics casts an entirely new light on the clostridial response to changing pH levels. Moreover, the results presented here underline that pH-dependent growth and pH-dependent specific enzymatic activity play a crucial role in this adaptation. In particular, the behaviour of AdhE1 and AdhE2 seems to be the key factor for the product formation of the two phenotypes, their pH-dependent growth, and thus, the pH-induced metabolic switch in C. acetobutylicum.

MeSH terms

  • Acetone / metabolism
  • Acids / metabolism
  • Butanols / metabolism
  • Clostridium acetobutylicum / chemistry
  • Clostridium acetobutylicum / growth & development
  • Clostridium acetobutylicum / metabolism*
  • Culture Media / chemistry*
  • Culture Media / metabolism
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphates / metabolism*


  • Acids
  • Butanols
  • Culture Media
  • Phosphates
  • Acetone
  • Ethanol