Bacterial mechanosensing of surface stiffness promotes signaling and growth leading to biofilm formation by Pseudomonas aeruginosa

bioRxiv. 2023 Jan 27:2023.01.26.525810. doi: 10.1101/2023.01.26.525810. Preprint.


The attachment of bacteria onto a surface, consequent signaling, and the accumulation and growth of the surface-bound bacterial population are key initial steps in the formation of pathogenic biofilms. While recent reports have hinted that the stiffness of a surface may affect the accumulation of bacteria on that surface, the processes that underlie bacterial perception of and response to surface stiffness are unknown. Furthermore, whether, and how, the surface stiffness impacts biofilm development, after initial accumulation, is not known. We use thin and thick hydrogels to create stiff and soft composite materials, respectively, with the same surface chemistry. Using quantitative microscopy, we find that the accumulation, motility, and growth of the opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa respond to surface stiffness, and that these are linked through cyclic-di-GMP signaling that depends on surface stiffness. The mechanical cue stemming from surface stiffness is elucidated using finite-element modeling combined with experiments – adhesion to stiffer surfaces results in greater changes in mechanical stress and strain in the bacterial envelope than does adhesion to softer surfaces with identical surface chemistry. The cell-surface-exposed protein PilY1 acts as a mechanosensor, that upon surface engagement, results in higher cyclic-di-GMP levels, lower motility, and greater accumulation on stiffer surfaces. PilY1 impacts the biofilm lag phase, which is extended for bacteria attaching to stiffer surfaces. This study shows clear evidence that bacteria actively respond to different stiffness of surfaces where they adhere via perceiving varied mechanical stress and strain upon surface engagement.

IMPORTANCE: Bacteria colonize many types of biological and medical surfaces with a large range of stiffnesses. Colonization leads to the formation of biofilms, which cause costly and life-impairing chronic infections. However, whether and how bacteria can sense and respond to the mechanical cue provided by surface stiffness has remained unknown. We find that bacteria do indeed respond to surface stiffness in a way that is both consistent with expectations based on equilibrium continuum mechanics and that quantitatively impacts multiple aspects of early biofilm formation. This is a new understanding for the nascent field of bacterial mechanobiology. Furthermore, this finding suggests the possibility of a new category of approaches to hindering biofilm development by tuning the mechanical properties of biomedical surfaces.

PMID:36747833 | PMC:PMC9900894 | DOI:10.1101/2023.01.26.525810


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