Journal of bacteriology

Loss of FliL alters Proteus mirabilis surface sensing and temperature-dependent swarming.

PMID 25331431


Proteus mirabilis is a dimorphic motile bacterium well known for its flagellum-dependent swarming motility over surfaces. In liquid, P. mirabilis cells are 1.5- to 2.0-μm swimmer cells with 4 to 6 flagella. When P. mirabilis encounters a solid surface, where flagellar rotation is limited, swimmer cells differentiate into elongated (10- to 80-μm), highly flagellated swarmer cells. In order for P. mirabilis to swarm, it first needs to detect a surface. The ubiquitous but functionally enigmatic flagellar basal body protein FliL is involved in P. mirabilis surface sensing. Previous studies have suggested that FliL is essential for swarming through its involvement in viscosity-dependent monitoring of flagellar rotation. In this study, we constructed and characterized ΔfliL mutants of P. mirabilis and Escherichia coli. Unexpectedly and unlike other fliL mutants, both P. mirabilis and E. coli ΔfliL cells swarm (Swr(+)). Further analysis revealed that P. mirabilis ΔfliL cells also exhibit an alteration in their ability to sense a surface: e.g., ΔfliL P. mirabilis cells swarm precociously over surfaces with low viscosity that normally impede wild-type swarming. Precocious swarming is due to an increase in the number of elongated swarmer cells in the population. Loss of fliL also results in an inhibition of swarming at <30°C. E. coli ΔfliL cells also exhibit temperature-sensitive swarming. These results suggest an involvement of FliL in the energetics and function of the flagellar motor.