Role and Regulation of Staphylococcal Cell Death
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The transition from growth to stationary phase is a natural response of bacteria to starvation and stress. When stress is alleviated and more favorable growth conditions return, bacteria resume proliferation without a significant loss in fitness. Although specific adaptations that enhance persistence and survival of bacteria in stationary phase have been identified, mechanisms that help maintain the competitive fitness potential of non-dividing bacterial populations have remained obscure. Here, we demonstrate that staphylococci that enter stationary phase following growth in excess glucose undergo regulated cell death to maintain the competitive fitness potential of the population. Upon a decrease in extracellular pH, the acetate generated as a byproduct of excess glucose metabolism induces cytoplasmic acidification and extensive protein damage in non-dividing cells. Although cell death ensues, it does not occur as a passive consequence of protein damage. Instead, we demonstrate that the expression and activity of the ClpXP protease is induced, resulting in the degeneration of cellular antioxidant capacity and, ultimately, cell death. Under these conditions, inactivation of either clpX or clpP resulted in the extended survival of unfit cells in stationary phase, but at the cost of maintaining population fitness. Finally, we show that cell death from antibiotics that interfere with bacterial protein synthesis can also be partly ascribed to the corresponding increase in clpP expression and activity. The functional conservation of ClpP in eukaryotes and bacteria suggests that ClpP-dependent cell death and fitness maintenance may be a widespread phenomenon in these domains of life.