Archaeal Cell Walls


Next to the bacterial and eukaryal domains, Archaea form the third domain of life. One major difference to bacteria is the composition of the cell wall. The cell wall of most Archaea is formed by a proteinaceous surface (S‐) layer. S‐layer proteins have the intrinsic ability to form two‐dimensional crystals, which can have an oblique (p2), square (p4) or hexagonal (p3 or p6) symmetry. All currently studied archaeal S‐layer proteins were found to be modified by the attachment of N‐linked and, in some cases, additionally by O‐linked glycans. Next to the S‐layer (glyco‐)proteins, sugar polymers like pseudomurein, methanochondroitin or heteropolysaccharides are also found in archaeal cell walls. These polymeric cell wall structures can either form the sole cell wall structure or be supported by an additional S‐layer cover. A few archaeal species even completely lack a cell wall.

Key Concepts:

  • Archaeal cell envelopes lack murein or a lipopolysaccharide (LPS)‐containing outer membrane.

  • Most Archaea posses a glycosylated proteinaceous surface layer (S‐layer) as their sole cell wall structure.

  • In some Archaea, the cell wall is composed of glycan polymers, like glutaminylglycan, heterosaccharide, methanochondroitin or pseudomurein.

Keywords: archaea; cell envelope; glutaminylglycan; glycosylation; heteropolysaccharide; methanochondroitin; pseudomurein; S‐layer (glyco‐)protein

Figure 1.

Diversity of archaeal cell envelopes. Abbreviations: CM, cytoplasmic membrane; GC, glycocalyx; HP, heteropolysaccharide sacculus; MC, methanochondroitin matrix; OM, outermost membrane; PM, pseudomurein; PS, proteinaceous sheath; SL, S‐layer.

Figure 2.

The different S‐layer symmetries. Single S‐layer proteins are depicted. S‐layer proteins that form the respective symmetry units are depicted in red.

Figure 3.

Schematic depiction of the archaeal glycosylation pathways. The N‐glycan biosynthesis starts at the cytoplasmic side of the membrane where nucleotide‐activated monosaccharide sugar precursors are sequentially added onto the lipid carrier dolichyl phosphate or dolichyl pyrophosphate by specific glycosyltransferases (yellow). In the later assembly steps, DolP‐linked monosaccharide might also be used as the sugar donor. The fully assembled DolP(P)‐linked N‐glycan is translocated across the cytoplasmic membrane by an unknown flippase (green) and the oligosaccharide is transferred by the oligosaccharyltransferase AglB (blue) onto a secreted target protein (S‐layer, brown) onto specific aspartic acid residues within N‐glycosylation sequins (Asp‐X‐Ser/Thr). Before protein secretion, specific O‐glycosyltransferases sequentially transfer nucleotide‐activated sugar precursors onto the hydroxyl group of Ser or Thr residues.

Figure 4.

Chemical structure of pseudomurein. After Kandler and König ().

Figure 5.

Putative biosynthetic pathway of pseudomurein according to König et al. (). Stage I – Cytoplasmic stage: formation of the UDP‐activated disaccharide and the UDP‐activated pentapeptide intermediates. Stage II – Cytoplasmic stage: formation of the UDP‐activated disaccharide pentapeptide. Stage III – Lipid stage: formation of undecaprenyl pyrophosphate (UdP‐PP) pentapeptide and tetrapeptide intermediates. During transpeptidation, one C‐terminal alanine residue is split off.

Figure 6.

Proposed structure of the repeating units (regions 1–3) of the cell wall polymer of Natronococcus occultus. Based on Niemetz et al. ().

Figure 7.

Chemical structure of methanochondroitin. After Kreisl and Kandler ().



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Further Readings

Baumeister W and Lembcke G (1992) Structural features of archaebacterial cell envelopes. Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes 24(6): 567–575.

Claus H and König H (2010) Cell envelopes of methanogens. In: Claus H and König H (eds) Prokaryotic Cell Wall Compounds, chap. 7, pp. 231–252. Heidelberg: Springer.

Eichler J, Abu‐Qarn M, Konrad Z et al. (2010) The cell envelopes of haloarchaea: staying in shape in a world of salt. In: Claus H and König H (eds) Prokaryotic Cell Wall Compounds, chap. 8, pp. 253–270. Heidelberg: Springer.

Eichler J and Adams MW (2005) Posttranslational protein modification in Archaea. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 69(3): 393–425.

König H (1988) Archaeobacterial cell envelopes. Canadian Journal of Microbiology 34(4): 395–406.

Rachel R (2010) Cell envelopes of crenarchaeota and nanoarchaeota. In: Claus H and König H (eds) Prokaryotic Cell Wall Compounds, chap. 9, pp. 271–291. Heidelberg: Springer.

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Meyer, Benjamin H, and Albers, Sonja‐Verena(Feb 2014) Archaeal Cell Walls. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000384.pub2]