The cell envelope of Gram-positive bacteria generally comprises two types of polyanionic polymers linked to either peptidoglycan (wall teichoic acids; WTA) or to membrane glycolipids (lipoteichoic acids; LTA). In some bacteria, including Bacillus subtilis strain 168, both WTA and LTA are glycerolphosphate polymers yet are synthesized through different pathways and have distinct but incompletely understood morphogenetic functions during cell elongation and division. We show here that the exolytic sn-glycerol-3-phosphodiesterase GlpQ can discriminate between B. subtilis WTA and LTA. GlpQ completely degraded unsubstituted WTA, which lacks substituents at the glycerol residues, by sequentially removing glycerolphosphates from the free end of the polymer up to the peptidoglycan linker. In contrast, GlpQ could not degrade unsubstituted LTA unless it was partially precleaved, allowing access of GlpQ to the other end of the polymer, which, in the intact molecule, is protected by a connection to the lipid anchor. Differences in stereochemistry between WTA and LTA have been suggested previously on the basis of differences in their biosynthetic precursors and chemical degradation products. The differential cleavage of WTA and LTA by GlpQ reported here represents the first direct evidence that they are enantiomeric polymers: WTA is made of sn-glycerol-3-phosphate, and LTA is made of sn-glycerol-1-phosphate. Their distinct stereochemistries reflect the dissimilar physiological and immunogenic properties of WTA and LTA. It also enables differential degradation of the two polymers within the same envelope compartment in vivo, particularly under phosphate-limiting conditions, when B. subtilis specifically degrades WTA and replaces it with phosphate-free teichuronic acids.
Keywords: Bacillus; Gram-positive bacteria; cell wall; glycerolphosphate; glycobiology; lipoteichoic acid (LTA); microbiology; stereochemistry; teichoic acid; teichoicase; wall teichoic acid (WTA).
© 2020 Walter et al.