Multisite phosphorylation regulates phenotypic variability in antibiotic tolerance

Elizabeth A. Libby, Shlomi Reuveni, and Jonathan Dworkin

Nov 09, 2018

Received Date: 25th October 18

Isogenic populations of cells exhibit phenotypic variability that has specific physiological consequences. For example, individual bacteria within a population can differ in their sensitivity to an antibiotic, but whether this variability can be regulated or is generally an unavoidable consequence of stochastic fluctuations is unclear. We observed that a bacterial stress response gene, the (p)ppGpp synthetase sasA, exhibits high levels of extrinsic noise in expression, suggestive of a regulatory process. We traced this variability to the convergence of two signaling systems that together control the multisite phosphorylation of a transcription factor, an event largely unexplored in bacteria, This regulatory intersection between a Ser/Thr kinase and a prototypical two component system is crucial for controlling the appearance of outliers, rare cells with unusually high levels of sasA expression. Additionally, by examining the full distributions of gene expression we calculated the contribution of the additional Ser/Thr kinase-dependent phosphorylation in setting the relative abundance of cells with a given a level of SasA. We then created a predictive model for the probability of a given cell surviving antibiotic treatment as a function of sasA expression. Therefore, our data show that multisite phosphorylation can be used to strongly regulate variations in phenotypes across a bacterial population.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

Nature Communications

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