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A novel, “hidden” penicillin-induced death of staphylococci at high drug concentration, occurring earlier than murosome-mediated killing processes

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Abstract

In log-phase cells of staphylococci, cultivated under high, “non-lytic” concentrations of penicillin G, there occurred a novel killing process hitherto hidden behind seemingly bacteriostatic effects. Two events are essential for the apprearance of this “hidden death”: (i) the failure of the dividing cell to deposit enough fibrillar cross-wall material to be welded together, and (ii) a premature ripping up of incomplete cross walls along their splitting system. “Hidden death” started as early as 10–15 min after drug addition, already during the first division cycle. It was the consequence of a loss of cytoplasmic constituents which erupted through peripheral slit-like openings in the incomplete cross walls. The loss resulted either in more or less empty cells or in cell shrinkage. These destructions could be prevented by raising the external osmotic pressure. In contrast, the conventional “non-hidden death” occurred only much later and exclusively during the second division cycle and mainly in those dividing cells, whose nascent cross walls of the first division plane had been welded together. These welding processes at nascent cross walls, resulting in tough connecting bridges between presumptive individual cells, were considered as a morphogenetic tool which protects the cells, so that they can resist the otherwise fatal penicillin-induced damages for at least an additional generation time (“morphogenetic resistance system”). Such welded cells, in the virtual absence of underlying cross-wall material, lost cytoplasm and were killed via ejection through pore-like wall openings or via explosions in the second division plane and after liberation of their murosomes, as it was the case in the presence of low, “lytic” concentrations of penicillin. Bacteriolysis did not cause any of the hitherto known penicillin-induced killing processes.

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Dedicated to Prof. Dr. Georg Henneberg on the occasion of his 85th birthday

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Giesbrecht, P., Kersten, T., Maidhof, H. et al. A novel, “hidden” penicillin-induced death of staphylococci at high drug concentration, occurring earlier than murosome-mediated killing processes. Arch. Microbiol. 161, 370–383 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288946

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Key words

  • Mechanism of penicillin action
  • Staphylococci
  • Cross-wall welding
  • Bacteriolysis
  • Morphogenetic resistance system