Potential Role of a Bistable Histidine Kinase Switch in the Asymmetric Division Cycle of Caulobacter crescentus
The free-living aquatic bacterium, Caulobacter crescentus, exhibits two different morphologies during its life cycle. The morphological change from swarmer cell to stalked cell is a result of changes of function of two bi-functional histidine kinases, PleC and CckA. Here, we describe a detailed molecular mechanism by which the function of PleC changes between phosphatase and kinase state. By mathematical modeling of our proposed molecular interactions, we derive conditions under which PleC, CckA and its response regulators exhibit bistable behavior, thus providing a scenario for robust switching between swarmer and stalked states. Our simulations are in reasonable agreement with in vitro and in vivo experimental observations of wild type and mutant phenotypes. According to our model, the kinase form of PleC is essential for the swarmer-to-stalked transition and to prevent premature development of the swarmer pole. Based on our results, we reconcile some published experimental observations and suggest novel mutants to test our predictions.