Synthesis of Peptidoglycan: Complete Process

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The bacterial cell wall in the domain Bacteria is composed of a rigid, tight-knit molecular complex called peptidoglycan. Peptidoglycan, also known as murein, is a vast polymer consisting of interlocking chains of identical peptidoglycan monomers. It functions to prevent bacterial osmotic lysis.

In order for bacteria to divide by binary fission and increase their size following division, links in the peptidoglycan must be broken, new peptidoglycan monomers must be inserted, and the peptide cross links must be resealed.

1. A group of bacterial enzymes called autolysins break the glycosidic bonds between the peptidoglycan monomers at the point of growth along the existing peptidoglycan. They also break the peptide cross-bridges that link the rows of sugars together. In this way, new peptidoglycan monomers can be inserted and enable bacterial growth.

2. Peptidoglycan monomers are synthesized in the cytosol of the bacterium where they attach to a membrane carrier molecule called bactoprenol. The bactoprenols transport the peptidoglycan monomers across the cytoplasmic membrane and helps insert them into the growing peptidoglycan chains.

a. First, N-acetylglucosamine (NAG) links up with uridine diphosphate (UDP) to form UDP-NAG. Some of the NAG is enzymatically converted to N-acetylmuramic acid (NAM) forming UDP-NAM.

b. Five amino acids are sequentially added to the UDP- NAM forming a pentapeptide. The last two are D-alanine molecules enzymatically produced from L-alanine, the usual form of the amino acid.

c. The NAM-pentapeptide is attached to the bactoprenol carrier molecule in the cytoplasmic membrane, the energy being supplied by one of the high-energy phosphate groups of the UDP.

d. The NAG is attached to the NAM-pentapeptide on the bactoprenol to complete the peptidoglycan monomer.

Bactoprenols then insert the peptidoglycan monomers into the breaks in the peptidoglycan at the growing point of the cell wall.

3. Transglycosylase enzymes catalize the formation of glycosidic bonds between the NAM and NAG of the peptidoglycan momomers and the NAG and NAM of the existing peptidoglycan.

4. Finally, transpeptidase enzymes reform the peptide cross-links between the rows and layers of peptidoglycan to make the wall strong.

Flash animation illustrating Synthesis of Peptidoglycan.swf by Gary E. Kaiser, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology, The Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville Campus
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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Last updated: September, 2018
Please send comments and inquiries to Dr. Gary Kaiser