Characterizing the physiological response of bacterial cells to antibiotic treatment is crucial for the design of antibacterial therapies and for understanding the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. While the effects of antibiotics are commonly characterized by their minimum inhibitory concentrations or the minimum bactericidal concentrations, the effects of antibiotics on cell morphology and physiology are less well characterized. Recent technological advances in single-cell studies of bacterial physiology have revealed how different antibiotic drugs affect the physiological state of the cell, including growth rate, cell size and shape, and macromolecular composition. Here, we review recent quantitative studies on bacterial physiology that characterize the effects of antibiotics on bacterial cell morphology and physiological parameters. In particular, we present quantitative data on how different antibiotic targets modulate cellular shape metrics including surface area, volume, surface-to-volume ratio, and the aspect ratio. Using recently developed quantitative models, we relate cell shape changes to alterations in the physiological state of the cell, characterized by changes in the rates of cell growth, protein synthesis and proteome composition. Our analysis suggests that antibiotics induce distinct morphological changes depending on their cellular targets, which may have important implications for the regulation of cellular fitness under stress.

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