Temperature sensing is essential for the survival of living cells. The membrane-bound thermosensor DesK from Bacillus subtilis is a key representative of histidine kinases receptors able to remodel membrane lipid composition when the temperature drops below ~30°C. Although the receptor is well studied, a central issue remains: how does the compositional and functional diversity of the surrounding membrane modulate receptor function? Reconstituting full-length DesK into proteoliposomes of well-defined and controlled lipid composition represents a minimal synthetic approach to systematically address this question. Thus DesK has been reconstituted in a variety of phospholipid bilayers and its temperature-regulated autokinase activity determined as function of fatty acyl chain length, lipid head-group structure and phase preference. We show that the head group structure of lipids (both in vitro and in vivo) has little effect on DesK thermosensing, whereas properties determined by the acyl chain of lipids, such as membrane thickness and phase separation into coexisting lipid domains, exert a profound regulatory effect on kinase domain activation at low temperatures. These experiments suggest that the non-polar domain of glycerolipids is essential to regulate the allosteric structural transitions of DesK, by activating the autophosphorylation of the intracellular kinase domain in response to a decrease in temperature.

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