Polyamines in Bacteria: Pleiotropic Effects yet Specific Mechanisms

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Extensive data in a wide range of organisms point to the importance of polyamine homeostasis for growth. The two most common polyamines found in bacteria are putrescine and spermidine. The investigation of polyamine function in bacteria has revealed that they are involved in a number of functions other than growth, which include incorporation into the cell wall and biosynthesis of siderophores. They are also important in acid resistance and can act as a free radical ion scavenger. More recently it has been suggested that polyamines play a potential role in signaling cellular differentiation in Proteus mirabilis. Polyamines have also been shown to be essential in biofilm formation in Yersinia pestis. The pleiotropic nature of polyamines has made their investigation difficult, particularly in discerning any specific effect from more global growth effects. Here we describe key developments in the investigation of the function of polyamines in bacteria that have revealed new roles for polyamines distinct from growth. We describe the bacterial genes necessary for biosynthesis and transport, with a focus on Y. pestis. Finally we review a novel role for polyamines in the regulation of biofilm development in Y. pestis and provide evidence that the investigation of polyamines in Y. pestis may provide a model for understanding the mechanism through which polyamines regulate biofilm formation.