Research ArticleBIOCHEMISTRY

Polysaccharide length affects mycobacterial cell shape and antibiotic susceptibility

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Science Advances  16 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 38, eaba4015
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4015


Bacteria control the length of their polysaccharides, which can control cell viability, physiology, virulence, and immune evasion. Polysaccharide chain length affects immunomodulation, but its impact on bacterial physiology and antibiotic susceptibility was unclear. We probed the consequences of truncating the mycobacterial galactan, an essential linear polysaccharide of about 30 residues. Galactan covalently bridges cell envelope layers, with the outermost cell wall linkage point occurring at residue 12. Reducing galactan chain length by approximately half compromises fitness, alters cell morphology, and increases the potency of hydrophobic antibiotics. Systematic variation of the galactan chain length revealed that it determines periplasm size. Thus, glycan chain length can directly affect cellular physiology and antibiotic activity, and mycobacterial glycans, not proteins, regulate periplasm size.

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