Role of Glutamate Synthase in Biofilm Formation by Bacillus subtilis

J Bacteriol. 2020 Jun 25;202(14):e00120-20. doi: 10.1128/JB.00120-20. Print 2020 Jun 25.


Bacillus subtilis forms robust biofilms in the presence of large amounts of carbon sources, such as glycerol. However, little is known about the importance of the metabolic systems, or the relationship between metabolic systems and regulatory systems, involved in biofilm formation. Glutamate synthase, encoded by gltAB, is an enzyme that converts 2-ketoglutarate (a tricarboxylic acid [TCA] cycle intermediate) and glutamine into glutamate, which is a general amino group donor in metabolism. Here, we show that a ΔgltA mutant exhibited early arrest of biofilm formation in complex medium containing glycerol. This phenotype was not due to glutamate auxotrophy. Consistent with its biofilm formation phenotype, the ΔgltA mutant exhibited an early decrease in expression of the epsA and tapA operons, which are responsible for production of biofilm matrix polymers. This resulted from decreased activity of their regulator, Spo0A, as evidenced by reduced expression of other Spo0A-regulated genes in the ΔgltA mutant. The ΔgltA mutation prevented biofilm formation only in the presence of large amounts of glycerol. Moreover, limited expression of citrate synthase (but not other TCA enzymes) restored biofilm-forming ability to the ΔgltA mutant. These results indicate that the ΔgltA mutant accumulates an inhibitory intermediate (citrate) in the TCA cycle in the presence of large amounts of glycerol. The ΔgltA mutant formed biofilms when excess iron was added to the medium. Taken together, the data suggest that accumulation of citrate ions by the ΔgltA mutant causes iron shortage due to chelation, which prevents activation of Spo0A and causes defective biofilm formation.IMPORTANCEBacillus subtilis, a model organism for bacterial biofilm formation, forms robust biofilms in a medium-dependent manner. Although the regulatory network that controls biofilm formation has been well studied, the importance of the underlying metabolic systems remains to be elucidated. The present study demonstrates that a metabolic disorder in a well-conserved metabolic system causes accumulation of an inhibitory metabolic intermediate that prevents activation of the system that regulates biofilm formation. These findings increase our understanding of the coordination between cellular metabolic status and the regulatory networks governing biofilm formation.

Keywords: Spo0A; TCA cycle; biofilms; citrate; glutamate synthase; iron.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / enzymology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms*
  • Citric Acid / metabolism
  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Glutamate Synthase / genetics
  • Glutamate Synthase / metabolism*
  • Mutation
  • Operon


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Citric Acid
  • Glutamate Synthase