Two Ways To Convert a Low-Affinity Potassium Channel to High Affinity: Control of Bacillus subtilis KtrCD by Glutamate

J Bacteriol. 2020 May 27;202(12):e00138-20. doi: 10.1128/JB.00138-20. Print 2020 May 27.


Potassium and glutamate are the major cation and anion, respectively, in every living cell. Due to the high concentrations of both ions, the cytoplasm of all cells can be regarded as a potassium glutamate solution. This implies that the concentrations of both ions need to be balanced. While the control of potassium uptake by glutamate is well established for eukaryotic cells, much less is known about the mechanisms that link potassium homeostasis to glutamate availability in bacteria. Here, we have discovered that the availability of glutamate strongly decreases the minimal external potassium concentration required for the highly abundant Bacillus subtilis potassium channel KtrCD to accumulate potassium. In contrast, the inducible KtrAB and KimA potassium uptake systems have high apparent affinities for potassium even in the absence of glutamate. Experiments with mutant strains revealed that the KtrD subunit responds to the presence of glutamate. For full activity, KtrD synergistically requires the presence of the regulatory subunit KtrC and of glutamate. The analysis of suppressor mutants of a strain that has KtrCD as the only potassium uptake system and that experiences severe potassium starvation identified a mutation in the ion selectivity filter of KtrD (Gly282 to Val) that similarly results in a strongly glutamate-independent increase of the apparent affinity for potassium. Thus, this work has identified two conditions that increase the apparent affinity of KtrCD for potassium, i.e., external glutamate and the acquisition of a single point mutation in KtrD.IMPORTANCE In each living cell, potassium is required for maintaining the intracellular pH and for the activity of essential enzymes. Like most other bacteria, Bacillus subtilis possesses multiple low- and high-affinity potassium uptake systems. Their activity is regulated by the second messenger cyclic di-AMP. Moreover, the pools of the most abundant ions potassium and glutamate must be balanced. We report two conditions under which the low-affinity potassium channel KtrCD is able to mediate potassium uptake at low external potassium concentrations: physiologically, the presence of glutamate results in a severely increased potassium uptake. Moreover, this is achieved by a mutation affecting the selectivity filter of the KtrD channel. These results highlight the integration between potassium and glutamate homeostasis in bacteria.

Keywords: Bacillus subtilis; cyclic di-AMP; glutamate; ion homeostasis; potassium transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / chemistry
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Bacillus subtilis / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Glutamic Acid / chemistry
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Potassium / chemistry
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry
  • Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Potassium Channels
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Potassium