Overcoming iron deficiency of an Escherichia coli tonb mutant by increasing outer membrane permeability

Nan Qiu, Rajeev Misra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The intake of certain nutrients, including ferric ion, is facilitated by the outer membrane-localized transporters. Due to ferric insolubility at physiological pH, Escherichia coli secretes a chelator, enterobactin, outside the cell and then transports back the enterobactin-ferric complex via an outer membrane receptor protein, FepA, whose activity is dependent on the proton motive force energy transduced by the TonB-ExbBD complex of the inner membrane. Consequently, ΔtonB mutant cells grow poorly on a medium low in iron. Prolonged incubation of ΔtonB cells on low-iron medium yields faster-growing colonies that acquired suppressor mutations in the yejM (pbgA) gene, which codes for a putative inner-to-outer membrane cardiolipin transporter. Further characterization of suppressors revealed that they display hypersusceptibility to vancomycin, a large hydrophilic antibiotic normally precluded from entering E. coli cells, and leak periplasmic proteins into the culture supeRNAtant, indicating a compromised outer membrane permeability barrier. All phenotypes were reversed by supplying the wild-type copy of yejM on a plasmid, suggesting that yejM mutations are solely responsible for the observed phenotypes. The deletion of all known cardiolipin synthase genes (clsABC) did not produce the phenotypes similar to mutations in the yejM gene, suggesting that the absence of cardiolipin from the outer membrane per se is not responsible for increased outer membrane permeability. Elevated lysophosphatidylethanolamine levels and the synthetic growth phenotype without pldA indicated that defective lipid homeostasis in the yejM mutant compromises outer membrane lipid asymmetry and permeability barrier to allow enterobactin intake, and that YejM has additional roles other than transporting cardiolipin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00340-19
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Iron transport
  • Lipid transport
  • Suppressor mutations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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