Molecular Mechanisms for Bacterial Potassium Homeostasis

J Mol Biol. 2021 Aug 6;433(16):166968. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2021.166968. Epub 2021 Mar 30.


Potassium ion homeostasis is essential for bacterial survival, playing roles in osmoregulation, pH homeostasis, regulation of protein synthesis, enzyme activation, membrane potential adjustment and electrical signaling. To accomplish such diverse physiological tasks, it is not surprising that a single bacterium typically encodes several potassium uptake and release systems. To understand the role each individual protein fulfills and how these proteins work in concert, it is important to identify the molecular details of their function. One needs to understand whether the systems transport ions actively or passively, and what mechanisms or ligands lead to the activation or inactivation of individual systems. Combining mechanistic information with knowledge about the physiology under different stress situations, such as osmostress, pH stress or nutrient limitation, one can identify the task of each system and deduce how they are coordinated with each other. By reviewing the general principles of bacterial membrane physiology and describing the molecular architecture and function of several bacterial K+-transporting systems, we aim to provide a framework for microbiologists studying bacterial potassium homeostasis and the many K+-translocating systems that are still poorly understood.

Keywords: K(+) transport; bacterial physiology; membrane potential; principles of K(+) transporters and channels; structural biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biological Transport
  • Homeostasis*
  • Ion Transport
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Potassium / chemistry
  • Potassium / metabolism*
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Potassium Channels
  • Potassium