Rod-like bacterial shape is maintained by feedback between cell curvature and cytoskeletal localization

Tristan S. Ursell, Jeffrey Nguyen, Russell D. Monds, Alexandre Colavin, Gabriel Billings, Nikolay Ouzounov, Zemer Gitai, Joshua William Shaevitz, Kerwyn Casey Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Cells typically maintain characteristic shapes, but the mechanisms of self-organization for robust morphological maintenance remain unclear in most systems. Precise regulation of rod-like shape in Escherichia coli cells requires the MreB actin-like cytoskeleton, but the mechanism by which MreB maintains rod-like shape is unknown. Here, we use time-lapse and 3D imaging coupled with computational analysis to map the growth, geometry, and cytoskeletal organization of single bacterial cells at subcellular resolution. Our results demonstrate that feedback between cell geometry and MreB localization maintains rod-like cell shape by targeting cell wall growth to regions of negative cell wall curvature. Pulsechase labeling indicates that growth is heterogeneous and correlates spatially and temporally with MreB localization, whereas MreB inhibition results in more homogeneous growth, including growth in polar regions previously thought to be inert. Biophysical simulations establish that curvature feedback on the localization of cell wall growth is an effective mechanism for cell straightening and suggest that surface deformations caused by cell wall insertion could direct circumferential motion of MreB. Our work shows that MreB orchestrates persistent, heterogeneous growth at the subcellular scale, enabling robust, uniform growth at the cellular scale without requiring global organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1025-E1034
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 18 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Bacterial cytoskeleton
  • Biophysical modeling
  • Morphogenesis


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