In mycobacteria, the glucose-based disaccharide trehalose cycles between the cytoplasm, where it is a stress protectant and carbon source, and the cell envelope, where it is released as a byproduct of outer mycomembrane glycan biosynthesis and turnover. Trehalose recycling via the LpqY-SugABC transporter promotes virulence, antibiotic recalcitrance, and efficient adaptation to nutrient deprivation. The source(s) of trehalose and the regulation of recycling under these and other stressors are unclear. A key technical gap in addressing these questions has been the inability to trace trehalose recycling in situ, directly from its site of liberation from the cell envelope. Here we describe a bifunctional chemical reporter that simultaneously marks mycomembrane biosynthesis and subsequent trehalose recycling with alkyne and azide groups. Using this probe, we discovered that the recycling efficiency for trehalose increases upon carbon starvation, concomitant with an increase in LpqY-SugABC expression. The ability of the bifunctional reporter to probe multiple, linked steps provides a more nuanced understanding of mycobacterial cell envelope metabolism and its plasticity under stress.
Keywords: M. smegmatis; M. tuberculosis; mycomembrane biosynthesis; trehalose recycling.