Exogenously provided glycine betaine functions as an efficient osmoprotectant for Bacillus subtilis in high-osmolarity environments. This gram-positive soil organism is not able to increase the intracellular level of glycine betaine through de novo synthesis in defined medium (A. M. Whatmore, J. A. Chudek, and R. H. Reed, J. Gen. Microbiol. 136:2527-2535, 1990). We found, however, that B. subtilis can synthesize glycine betaine when its biosynthetic precursor, choline, is present in the growth medium. Uptake studies with radiolabelled [methyl-14C]choline demonstrated that choline transport is osmotically controlled and is mediated by a high-affinity uptake system. Choline transport of cells grown in low- and high-osmolarity media showed Michaelis-Menten kinetics with Km values of 3 and 5 microM and maximum rates of transport (Vmax) of 10 and 36 nmol min-1 mg of protein-1, respectively. The choline transporter exhibited considerable substrate specificity, and the results of competition experiments suggest that the fully methylated quaternary ammonium group is a key feature for substrate recognition. Thin-layer chromatography revealed that the radioactivity from exogenously provided [methyl-14C]choline accumulated intracellularly as [methyl-14C]glycine betaine, demonstrating that B. subtilis possesses enzymes for the oxidative conversion of choline into glycine betaine. Exogenously provided choline significantly increased the growth rate of B. subtilis in high-osmolarity media and permitted its proliferation under conditions that are otherwise strongly inhibitory for its growth. Choline and glycine betaine were not used as sole sources of carbon or nitrogen, consistent with their functional role in the process of adaptation of B. subtilis to high-osmolarity stress
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