Interrupting Biosynthesis of O Antigen or the Lipopolysaccharide Core Produces Morphological Defects in Escherichia coli by Sequestering Undecaprenyl Phosphate

J Bacteriol. 2016 Oct 21;198(22):3070-3079. doi: 10.1128/JB.00550-16. Print 2016 Nov 15.


Undecaprenyl phosphate (Und-P) is a member of the family of essential polyprenyl phosphate lipid carriers and in the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli is required for synthesizing the peptidoglycan (PG) cell wall, enterobacterial common antigen (ECA), O antigen, and colanic acid. Previously, we found that interruption of ECA biosynthesis indirectly alters PG synthesis by sequestering Und-P via dead-end intermediates, causing morphological defects. To determine if competition for Und-P was a more general phenomenon, we determined if O-antigen intermediates caused similar effects. Indeed, disrupting the synthesis of O antigen or the lipopolysaccharide core oligosaccharide induced cell shape deformities, which were suppressed by preventing the initiation of O-antigen biosynthesis or by manipulating Und-P metabolism. We conclude that accumulation of O-antigen intermediates alters PG synthesis by sequestering Und-P. Importantly, many previous experiments addressed the physiological functions of various oligosaccharides and glycoconjugates, but these studies employed mutants that accumulate deleterious intermediates. Thus, conclusions based on these experiments must be reevaluated to account for possible indirect effects of Und-P sequestration.

Importance: Bacteria use long-chain isoprenoids like undecaprenyl phosphate (Und-P) as lipid carriers to assemble numerous glycan polymers that comprise the cell envelope. In any one bacterium, multiple oligosaccharide biosynthetic pathways compete for a common pool of Und-P, which means that disruptions in one pathway may produce secondary consequences that affect the others. Using the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli as a model, we demonstrate that interruption of the biogenesis of O antigen, a major outer membrane component, indirectly impairs peptidoglycan synthesis by sequestering Und-P into dead-end intermediates. These results strongly argue that the functions of many Und-P-utilizing pathways must be reevaluated, because much of our current understanding is based on experiments that did not control for these unintended secondary effects.

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Lipopolysaccharides / biosynthesis*
  • O Antigens / biosynthesis*
  • Peptidoglycan / biosynthesis
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates / metabolism*


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • O Antigens
  • Peptidoglycan
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates
  • undecaprenyl phosphate