CrvA and CrvB form a curvature-inducing module sufficient to induce cell-shape complexity in Gram-negative bacteria

Nicholas R. Martin, Edith Blackman, Benjamin P. Bratton, Katelyn J. Chase, Thomas M. Bartlett, Zemer Gitai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Bacterial species have diverse cell shapes that enable motility, colonization and virulence. The cell wall defines bacterial shape and is primarily built by two cytoskeleton-guided synthesis machines, the elongasome and the divisome. However, the mechanisms producing complex shapes, like the curved-rod shape of Vibrio cholerae, are incompletely defined. Previous studies have reported that species-specific regulation of cytoskeleton-guided machines enables formation of complex bacterial shapes such as cell curvature and cellular appendages. In contrast, we report that CrvA and CrvB are sufficient to induce complex cell shape autonomously of the cytoskeleton in V. cholerae. The autonomy of the CrvAB module also enables it to induce curvature in the Gram-negative species Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Caulobacter crescentus and Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Using inducible gene expression, quantitative microscopy and biochemistry, we show that CrvA and CrvB circumvent the need for patterning via cytoskeletal elements by regulating each other to form an asymmetrically localized, periplasmic structure that binds directly to the cell wall. The assembly and disassembly of this periplasmic structure enables dynamic changes in cell shape. Bioinformatics indicate that CrvA and CrvB may have diverged from a single ancestral hybrid protein. Using fusion experiments in V. cholerae, we find that a synthetic CrvA/B hybrid protein is sufficient to induce curvature on its own, but that expression of two distinct proteins, CrvA and CrvB, promotes more rapid curvature induction. We conclude that morphological complexity can arise independently of cell-shape specification by the core cytoskeleton-guided synthesis machines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)910-920
Number of pages11
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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