A Bilayer-Couple Model of Bacterial Outer Membrane Vesicle Biogenesis
Gram-negative bacteria naturally produce outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) that arise through bulging and pinching off of the outer membrane. OMVs have several biological functions for bacteria, most notably as trafficking vehicles for toxins, antimicrobials, and signaling molecules. While their biological roles are now appreciated, the mechanism of OMV formation has not been fully elucidated. We recently demonstrated that the signaling molecule 2-heptyl-3-hydroxy-4-quinolone (PQS) is required for OMV biogenesis in P. aeruginosa. We hypothesized that PQS stimulates OMV formation through direct interaction with the outer leaflet of the outer membrane. To test this hypothesis, we employed a red blood cell (RBC) model that has been used extensively to study small-molecule–membrane interactions. Our results revealed that addition of PQS to RBCs induced membrane curvature, resulting in the formation of membrane spicules (spikes), consistent with small molecules that are inserted stably into the outer leaflet of the membrane. Radiotracer experiments demonstrated that sufficient PQS was inserted into the membrane to account for this curvature and that curvature induction was specific to PQS structure. These data suggest that a low rate of interleaflet flip-flop forces PQS to accumulate in and expand the outer leaflet relative to the inner leaflet, thus inducing membrane curvature. In support of PQS-mediated outer leaflet expansion, the PQS effect was antagonized by chlorpromazine, a molecule known to be preferentially inserted into the inner leaflet. Based on these data, we propose a bilayer-couple model to describe P. aeruginosa OMV biogenesis and suggest that this is a general mechanism for bacterial OMV formation.IMPORTANCE Despite the ubiquity and importance of outer membrane vesicle (OMV) production in Gram-negative bacteria, the molecular details of OMV biogenesis are not fully understood. Early experiments showed that 2-heptyl-3-hydroxy-4-quinolone (PQS) induces OMV formation through physical interaction with the membrane but did not elucidate the mechanism. The present study demonstrates that PQS specifically and reversibly promotes blebbing of model membranes dependent upon the same properties that are required for OMV formation in P. aeruginosa. These results are consistent with a mechanism where expansion of the outer leaflet relative to the inner leaflet induces localized membrane curvature. This “bilayer-couple” model can account for OMV formation under all conditions and is easily generalized to other Gram-negative bacteria. The model therefore raises the possibility of a universal paradigm for vesicle production in prokaryotes with features strikingly different from what is known in eukaryotes.