A two-track model for the spatiotemporal coordination of bacterial septal cell wall synthesis revealed by single-molecule imaging of FtsW

Nat Microbiol. 2021 May;6(5):584-593. doi: 10.1038/s41564-020-00853-0. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


Synthesis of septal peptidoglycan (sPG) is crucial for bacterial cell division. FtsW, an indispensable component of the cell division machinery in all walled bacterial species, was recently identified in vitro as a peptidoglycan glycosyltransferase (PGTase). Despite its importance, the septal PGTase activity of FtsW has not been demonstrated in vivo. How its activity is spatiotemporally regulated in vivo has also remained elusive. Here, we confirmed FtsW as an essential septum-specific PGTase in vivo using an N-acetylmuramic acid analogue incorporation assay. Next, using single-molecule tracking coupled with genetic manipulations, we identified two populations of processively moving FtsW molecules: a fast-moving population correlated with the treadmilling dynamics of the essential cytoskeletal FtsZ protein and a slow-moving population dependent on active sPG synthesis. We further identified that FtsN, a potential sPG synthesis activator, plays an important role in promoting the slow-moving population. Our results suggest a two-track model, in which inactive sPG synthases follow the 'Z-track' to be distributed along the septum and FtsN promotes their release from the Z-track to become active in sPG synthesis on the slow 'sPG-track'. This model provides a mechanistic framework for the spatiotemporal coordination of sPG synthesis in bacterial cell division.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Wall / chemistry
  • Cell Wall / genetics
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Peptidoglycan / metabolism
  • Peptidoglycan Glycosyltransferase / genetics
  • Peptidoglycan Glycosyltransferase / metabolism
  • Single Molecule Imaging


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • FtsZ protein, Bacteria
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Peptidoglycan
  • FtsW protein, Bacteria
  • Peptidoglycan Glycosyltransferase