Ion transport and osmotic adjustment in Escherichia coli in response to ionic and non-ionic osmotica

Lana Shabala, John Bowman, Janelle Brown, Tom Ross, Tom McMeekin, Sergey Shabala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Bacteria respond to osmotic stress by a substantial increase in the intracellular osmolality, adjusting their cell turgor for altered growth conditions. Using Escherichia coli as a model organism we demonstrate here that bacterial responses to hyperosmotic stress specifically depend on the nature of osmoticum used. We show that increasing acute hyperosmotic NaCl stress above ∼1.0 Os kg-1 causes a dose-dependent K+ leak from the cell, resulting in a substantial decrease in cytosolic K+ content and a concurrent accumulation of Na+ in the cell. At the same time, isotonic sucrose or mannitol treatment (non-ionic osmotica) results in a gradual increase of the net K+ uptake. Ion flux data are consistent with growth experiments showing that bacterial growth is impaired by NaCl at the concentration resulting in a switch from net K+ uptake to efflux. Microarray experiments reveal that about 40% of upregulated genes shared no similarity in their responses to NaCl and sucrose treatment, further suggesting specificity of osmotic adjustment in E. coli to ionic and non-ionic osmotica. The observed differences are explained by the specificity of the stress-induced changes in the membrane potential of bacterial cells highlighting the importance of voltage-gated K+ transporters for bacterial adaptation to hyperosmotic stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


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