As part of their life cycle, neutralophilic bacteria are often exposed to varying environmental stresses, among which fluctuations in pH are the most frequent. In particular, acid environments can be encountered in many situations from fermented food to the gastric compartment of the animal host. Herein, we review the current knowledge of the molecular mechanisms adopted by a range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, mostly those affecting human health, for coping with acid stress. Because organic and inorganic acids have deleterious effects on the activity of the biological macromolecules to the point of significantly reducing growth and even threatening their viability, it is not unexpected that neutralophilic bacteria have evolved a number of different protective mechanisms, which provide them with an advantage in otherwise life-threatening conditions. The overall logic of these is to protect the cell from the deleterious effects of a harmful level of protons. Among the most favoured mechanisms are the pumping out of protons, production of ammonia and proton-consuming decarboxylation reactions, as well as modifications of the lipid content in the membrane. Several examples are provided to describe mechanisms adopted to sense the external acidic pH. Particular attention is paid to Escherichia coli extreme acid resistance mechanisms, the activity of which ensure survival and may be directly linked to virulence.
Keywords: acid tolerance response; extreme acid resistance; glutamate-dependent acid resistance; pathogenic bacteria; two-component systems; virulence.
© 2014 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. All rights reserved.