Identification of genes required for glucan exopolysaccharide production in Lactobacillus johnsonii suggests a novel mechanism of biosynthesis

Melinda J Mayer, Alfonsina D'Amato, Ian J Colquhoun, Gwénaëlle Le Gall, Arjan Narbad

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Lactobacillus johnsonii FI9785 makes two capsular exopolysaccharides-a heteropolysaccharide (EPS2) encoded by the eps operon and a branched glucan homopolysaccharide (EPS1). The homopolysaccharide is synthesized in the absence of sucrose, and there are no typical glucansucrase genes in the genome. Quantitative proteomics was used to compare the wild type to a mutant where EPS production was reduced to attempt to identify proteins associated with EPS1 biosynthesis. A putative bactoprenol glycosyltransferase, FI9785_242 (242), was less abundant in the Δ eps_cluster mutant strain than in the wild type. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis of isolated EPS showed that deletion of the FI9785_242 gene ( 242) prevented the accumulation of EPS1, without affecting EPS2 synthesis, while plasmid complementation restored EPS1 production. The deletion of 242 also produced a slow-growth phenotype, which could be rescued by complementation. 242 shows amino acid homology to bactoprenol glycosyltransferase GtrB, involved in O-antigen glycosylation, while in silico analysis of the neighboring gene 241 suggested that it encodes a putative flippase with homology to the GtrA superfamily. Deletion of 241 also prevented production of EPS1 and again caused a slow-growth phenotype, while plasmid complementation reinstated EPS1 synthesis. Both genes are highly conserved in L. johnsonii strains isolated from different environments. These results suggest that there may be a novel mechanism for homopolysaccharide synthesis in the Gram-positive L. johnsonii IMPORTANCE Exopolysaccharides are key components of the surfaces of their bacterial producers, contributing to protection, microbial and host interactions, and even virulence. They also have significant applications in industry, and understanding their biosynthetic mechanisms may allow improved production of novel and valuable polymers. Four categories of bacterial exopolysaccharide biosynthesis have been described in detail, but novel enzymes and glycosylation mechanisms are still being described. Our findings that a putative bactoprenol glycosyltransferase and flippase are essential to homopolysaccharide biosynthesis in Lactobacillus johnsonii FI9785 indicate that there may be an alternative mechanism of glucan biosynthesis to the glucansucrase pathway. Disturbance of this synthesis leads to a slow-growth phenotype. Further elucidation of this biosynthesis may give insight into exopolysaccharide production and its impact on the bacterial cell.

Original languageEnglish
Article number02808-19
Number of pages15
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Early online date14 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • FI9785
  • Lactobacillus johnsonii
  • alpha glucan
  • exopolysaccharide
  • glycosyltransferase
  • nuclear magnetic resonance
  • proteomics
  • Glycosyltransferase
  • Alpha glucan
  • Proteomics
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance
  • Exopolysaccharide

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