Intracellular vesicles as reproduction elements in cell wall-deficient L-form bacteria.
Cell wall-deficient bacteria, or L-forms, represent an extreme example of bacterial plasticity. Stable L-forms can multiply and propagate indefinitely in the absence of a cell wall. Data presented here are consistent with the model that intracellular vesicles in Listeria monocytogenes L-form cells represent the actual viable reproductive elements. First, small intracellular vesicles are formed along the mother cell cytoplasmic membrane, originating from local phospholipid accumulation. During growth, daughter vesicles incorporate a small volume of the cellular cytoplasm, and accumulate within volume-expanding mother cells. Confocal Raman microspectroscopy demonstrated the presence of nucleic acids and proteins in all intracellular vesicles, but only a fraction of which reveals metabolic activity. Following collapse of the mother cell and release of the daughter vesicles, they can establish their own membrane potential required for respiratory and metabolic processes. Premature depolarization of the surrounding membrane promotes activation of daughter cell metabolism prior to release. Based on genome resequencing of L-forms and comparison to the parental strain, we found no evidence for predisposing mutations that might be required for L-form transition. Further investigations revealed that propagation by intracellular budding not only occurs in Listeria species, but also in L-form cells generated from different Enterococcus species. From a more general viewpoint, this type of multiplication mechanism seems reminiscent of the physicochemical self-reproducing properties of abiotic lipid vesicles used to study the primordial reproduction pathways of putative prokaryotic precursor cells.