The cellular proteolytic machinery orchestrates protein turnover and regulates several key biological processes. This study addresses the roles of Lon, a major ATP-dependent protease, in modulating the responses of Escherichia coli strain MG1655 to low and high amounts of sodium salicyclate (NaSal), a widely used clinically relevant analgesic. NaSal affects several bacterial responses, including growth and resistance to multiple antibiotics. The loss of lon reduces growth in response to high, but not low, amounts of NaSal. From amongst a panel of Lon substrates, MarA was identified to be the downstream target of Lon. Thus, stabilization of MarA in the absence of lon lowers growth of the strain in the presence of higher amounts of NaSal. The steady-state transcript levels of marA and its target genes, acrA, acrB and tolC, are higher in the Dlon strain compared with the WT strain. Consequently, the resistance to antibiotics, e.g. tetracycline and nalidixic acid, is enhanced in Δlon in a marA-dependent manner. Furthermore, the target genes of MarA, i.e. acrB and tolC, are responsible for NaSal-mediated antibiotic resistance. Studies using atomic force microscopy demonstrated that ciprofloxacin led to greater cell filamentation, which is lower in the Dlon strain due to higher levels of MarA. Overall, this study delineates the roles of Lon protease, its substrate MarA and downstream targets of MarA, e.g. acrB and tolC, during NaSal-mediated growth reduction and antibiotic resistance. The implications of these observations in the adaptation of E. coli under different environmental conditions are discussed.
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