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In the 1960 s several groups reported the isolation and preliminary genetic mapping of Escherichia coli strains tolerant towards the action of colicins. These pioneering studies kick-started two new fields in bacteriology; one centred on how bacteriocins like colicins exploit the Tol (or more commonly Tol-Pal) system to kill bacteria, the other on the physiological role of this cell envelope-spanning assembly. The following half century has seen significant advances in the first of these fields whereas the second has remained elusive, until recently. Here, we review work that begins to shed light on Tol-Pal function in Gram-negative bacteria. What emerges from these studies is that Tol-Pal is an energised system with fundamental, interlinked roles in cell division-coordinating the re-structuring of peptidoglycan at division sites and stabilising the connection between the outer membrane and underlying cell wall. This latter role is achieved by Tol-Pal exploiting the proton motive force to catalyse the accumulation of the outer membrane peptidoglycan associated lipoprotein Pal at division sites while simultaneously mobilising Pal molecules from around the cell. These studies begin to explain the diverse phenotypic outcomes of tol-pal mutations, point to other cell envelope roles Tol-Pal may have and raise many new questions.

Original publication




Journal article


FEMS Microbiol Rev

Publication Date



Ton, cell envelope, divisome, outer membrane, peptidoglycan, proton motive force