Alkaliphiles: 'basic' molecular problems of pH tolerance and bioenergetics

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Feb;15(3):403-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.tb02253.x.


Alkaliphilic Bacillus species provide experimental opportunities for examination of physiological processes under conditions in which the stress of the extreme environment brings issues of general biological importance into special focus. The alkaliphile, like many other cells, uses Na+/H+ antiporters in pH regulation, but its array of these porters, and other ion-flux pathways that energize and support their activity, result in an extraordinary capacity for pH homeostasis; this process nonetheless becomes the factor that limits growth at the upper edge of the pH range. Above pH 9.5, aerobic alkaliphiles maintain a cytoplasmic pH that is two or more units below the external pH. This chemiosmotically adverse delta pH is bypassed by use of an electrochemical gradient of Na+ rather than of protons to energize solute uptake and motility. By contrast, ATP synthesis occurs via completely proton-coupled oxidative phosphorylation that proceeds just as well, or better, at pH 10 and above as it does in the same bacteria growing at lower pH, without the adverse pH gradient. Various mechanisms that might explain this conundrum are described, and the current state of the evidence supporting them is summarized.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Aerobiosis
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacillus / physiology*
  • Cell Compartmentation
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / chemistry
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism
  • Protons
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Protons
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Sodium
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases