In response to an attractant or repellant, an Escherichia coli cell controls the rotational direction of its flagellar motor by a chemotaxis system. When an E. coli cell senses an attractant, a reduction in the intracellular concentration of a chemotaxis protein, phosphorylated CheY (CheY-P), induces counterclockwise (CCW) rotation of the flagellar motor, and this cellular response is thought to occur in several hundred milliseconds. Here, to measure the signaling process occurring inside a single E. coli cell, including the recognition of an attractant by a receptor cluster, the inactivation of histidine kinase CheA, and the diffusion of CheY and CheY-P molecules, we applied a serine stimulus by instantaneous photorelease from a caged compound and examined the cellular response at a temporal resolution of several hundred microseconds. We quantified the clockwise (CW) and CCW durations immediately after the photorelease of serine as the response time and the duration of the response, respectively. The results showed that the response time depended on the distance between the receptor and motor, indicating that the decreased CheY-P concentration induced by serine propagates through the cytoplasm from the receptor-kinase cluster toward the motor with a timing that is explained by the diffusion of CheY and CheY-P molecules. The response time included 240 ms for enzymatic reactions in addition to the time required for diffusion of the signaling molecule. The measured response time and duration of the response also revealed that the E. coli cell senses a similar serine concentration regardless of whether the serine concentration is increasing or decreasing. These detailed quantitative findings increase our understanding of the signal transduction process that occurs inside cells during bacterial chemotaxis.
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