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Bacterial cells are critically dependent upon pH regulation. Here we demonstrate that indole plays a critical role in the regulation of the cytoplasmic pH of Escherichia coli. Indole is an aromatic molecule with diverse signalling roles. Two modes of indole signalling have been described: persistent and pulse signalling. The latter is illustrated by the brief but intense elevation of intracellular indole during stationary phase entry. We show that under conditions permitting indole production, cells maintain their cytoplasmic pH at 7.2. In contrast, under conditions where no indole is produced, the cytoplasmic pH is near 7.8. We demonstrate that pH regulation results from pulse, rather than persistent, indole signalling. Furthermore, we illustrate that the relevant property of indole in this context is its ability to conduct protons across the cytoplasmic membrane. Additionally, we show that the effect of the indole pulse that occurs normally during stationary phase entry in rich medium remains as a "memory" to maintain the cytoplasmic pH until entry into the next stationary phase. The indole-mediated reduction in cytoplasmic pH may explain why indole provides E. coli with a degree of protection against stresses, including some bactericidal antibiotics.


Ashraf Zarkan, Santiago Caño-Muñiz, Jinbo Zhu, Kareem Al Nahas, Jehangir Cama, Ulrich F Keyser, David K Summers. Indole Pulse Signalling Regulates the Cytoplasmic pH of E. coli in a Memory-Like Manner. Scientific reports. 2019 Mar 07;9(1):3868

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PMID: 30846797

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