Biochimica et biophysica acta

Bacillus subtilis alters the proportion of major membrane phospholipids in response to surfactin exposure.

PMID 27620333


Surfactin, an anionic lipopeptide produced by Bacillus subtilis, is an antimicrobial that targets the cytoplasmic membrane. Nowadays it appears increasingly apparent that the mechanism of resistance against these types of antibiotics consists of target site modification. This prompted us to investigate whether the surfactin non-producing strain B. subtilis 168 changes its membrane composition in response to a sublethal surfactin concentration. Here we show that the exposure of B. subtilis to surfactin at concentrations of 350 and 650 μg/ml (designated as SF350 and SF650, respectively) leads to a concentration-dependent growth arrest followed by regrowth with an altered growth rate. Analysis of the membrane lipid composition revealed modifications both in the polar head group and the fatty acid region. The presence of either surfactin concentration resulted in a reduction in the content of the major membrane phospholipid phosphatidylglycerol (PG) and increase in phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), which was accompanied by elevated levels of phosphatidic acid (PA) in SF350 cultures. The fatty acid analysis of SF350 cells showed a marked increase in non-branched high-melting fatty acids, which lowered the fluidity of the membrane interior measured as the steady-state fluorescence anisotropy of DPH. The liposome leakage of carboxyfluorescein-loaded vesicles resembling the phospholipid composition of surfactin-adapted cells showed that the susceptibility to surfactin-induced leakage is strongly reduced when the PG/PE ratio decreases and/or PA is included in the target bilayer. We concluded that the modifications of the phospholipid content of B. subtilis cells might provide a self-tolerance of the membrane active surfactin.