BolA is a transcriptional switch that turns off motility and turns on biofilm development

mBio. 2015 Feb 17;6(1):e02352-14. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02352-14.


Bacteria are extremely versatile organisms that rapidly adapt to changing environments. When bacterial cells switch from planktonic growth to biofilm, flagellum formation is turned off and the production of fimbriae and extracellular polysaccharides is switched on. BolA is present in most Gram-negative bacteria, and homologues can be found from proteobacteria to eukaryotes. Here, we show that BolA is a new bacterial transcription factor that modulates the switch from a planktonic to a sessile lifestyle. It negatively modulates flagellar biosynthesis and swimming capacity in Escherichia coli. Furthermore, BolA overexpression favors biofilm formation, involving the production of fimbria-like adhesins and curli. Our results also demonstrate that BolA is a protein with high affinity to DNA and is able to regulate many genes on a genome-wide scale. Moreover, we show that the most significant targets of this protein involve a complex network of genes encoding proteins related to biofilm development. Herein, we propose that BolA is a motile/adhesive transcriptional switch, specifically involved in the transition between the planktonic and the attachment stage of biofilm formation.

Importance: Escherichia coli cells possess several mechanisms to cope with stresses. BolA has been described as a protein important for survival in late stages of bacterial growth and under harsh environmental conditions. BolA-like proteins are widely conserved from prokaryotes to eukaryotes. Although their exact function is not fully established at the molecular level, they seem to be involved in cell proliferation or cell cycle regulation. Here, we unraveled the role of BolA in biofilm development and bacterial motility. Our work suggests that BolA actively contributes to the decision of bacteria to arrest flagellar production and initiate the attachment to form structured communities, such as biofilms. The molecular studies of different lifestyles coupled with the comprehension of the BolA functions may be an important step for future perspectives, with health care and biotechnology applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Flagella / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Locomotion*
  • Organelle Biogenesis
  • Protein Binding
  • Regulon
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • BolA protein, E coli
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Transcription Factors