Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Maria A. Schumacher

Committee Member

Richard G. Brennan

Committee Member

John E. Ladbury

Committee Member

Renhao Li

Committee Member

William Margolin


Cell division or cytokinesis is one of the most fundamental processes in biology and is essential for the propagation of all living species. In Escherichia coli, cell division occurs by ingrowth of the membrane envelope at the cell center and is orchestrated by the FtsZ protein. FtsZ self-assembles into linear protofilaments in a GTP dependent manner to form a cytoskeletal scaffold called the Z-ring. The Z-ring provides the framework for the assembly of the division apparatus and determines the site of cytokinesis. The total amount of FtsZ molecules in a cell significantly exceeds the concentration required for Z-ring formation. Hence, Z-ring formation must be highly regulated, both temporally and spatially. In particular, the assembly of Z-rings at the cell poles and over chromosomal DNA must be prevented. These inhibitory roles are played by two key regulatory systems called the Min and nucleoid occlusion (NO) systems.

In E. coli, Min proteins oscillate from pole to pole; the net result of this oscillatory process is the formation of a zone of FtsZ inhibition at the cell poles. However, the replicated nucleoid DNA near the midcell must also be protected from bisection by the Z-ring which is ensured by NO. A protein called SlmA was shown to be the effector of NO in E. coli. SlmA was identified in a screen designed to isolate mutations that were lethal in the absence of Min, hence the name SlmA (synthetic lethal with a defective Min system). Furthers SlmA was shown to bind DNA and localize to the nucleoid fraction of the cell. Additionally, light scattering experiments suggested that SlmA interacts with FtsZ-GTP and alters its polymerization properties. Here we describe studies that reveal the molecular mechanism by which SlmA mediates NO in E. coli. Specifically, we determined the crystal structure of SlmA, identified its DNA binding site specificity, and mapped its binding sites on the E. coli chromosome by chromatin immuno-precipitation experiments. We went on to determine the SlmA-FtsZ structure by small angle X-ray scattering and examined the effect of SlmA-DNA on FtsZ polymerization by electron microscopy. Our combined data show how SlmA is able to disrupt Z-ring formation through its interaction with FtsZ in a specific temporal and spatial manner and hence prevent nucleoid guillotining during cell division.


bacterial cell division, chromosome segregation, FtsZ Z-ring formation, nucleoid occlusion, SlmA