The Ser/Thr protein kinase AfsK regulates polar growth and hyphal branching in the filamentous bacteria Streptomyces

Antje M. Hempel, Stuart Cantlay, Virginie Molle, Sheng Bing Wang, Mike J. Naldrett, Jennifer L. Parker, David M. Richards, Yong Gyun Jung, Mark J. Buttner, Klas Flärdh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


In cells that exhibit apical growth, mechanisms that regulate cell polarity are crucial for determination of cellular shape and for the adaptation of growth to intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Broadly conserved pathways control cell polarity in eukaryotes, but less is known about polarly growing prokaryotes. An evolutionarily ancient form of apical growth is found in the filamentous bacteria Streptomyces, and is directed by a polarisome-like complex involving the essential protein DivIVA. We report here that this bacterial polarization machinery is regulated by a eukaryotic-type Ser/Thr protein kinase, AfsK, which localizes to hyphal tips and phosphorylates DivIVA. During normal growth, AfsK regulates hyphal branching by modulating branch-site selection and some aspect of the underlying polarisome-splitting mechanism that controls branching of Streptomyces hyphae. Further, AfsK is activated by signals generated by the arrest of cell wall synthesis and directly communicates this to the polarisome by hyperphosphorylating DivIVA. Induction of high levels of DivIVA phosphorylation by using a constitutively active mutant AfsK causes disassembly of apical polarisomes, followed by establishment of multiple hyphal branches elsewhere in the cell, revealing a profound impact of this kinase on growth polarity. The function of AfsK is reminiscent of the phoshorylation of polarity proteins and polarisome components by Ser/Thr protein kinases in eukaryotes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2371-E2379
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 28 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytoskeleton
  • Hyphal growth
  • Peptidoglycan
  • Protein phosphorylation
  • Tip extension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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