Like other bacteria, Escherichia coli must carefully regulate the intracellular concentration of sodium ion (Na+). During the bacterial production of any organic acid, cations like Na+ invariably accumulate during a process which must maintain a near neutral pH. In this study, the E. coli nhaA gene encoding the Na+/H+ antiporter membrane protein and the nhaR gene encoding the NhaA regulatory protein were overexpressed in wild-type E. coli MG1655 and in MG1655 pflB (ALS1317) which lacks pyruvate formate lyase activity and thus accumulates lactate under anaerobic conditions.
Expression of either the nhaA or nhaR gene on the high copy inducible expression vector pTrc99A caused a significant reduction in the growth rate of MG1655. No change in growth rate was observed for MG1655 or ALS1317 for Na+ concentrations of 0.75–0.90 M when the medium copy pBR322 plasmid was used to overexpress the two genes. In a fed-batch process to produce the model acid lactate with NaOH addition for pH control, lactate accumulation ceased in MG1655, MG1655/pBR322, MG1655/pBR322-nhaR and MG1655/pBR322-nhaA when the concentration reached 55–58 g/L. In an identical process lactate accumulation in MG1655/pBR322-nhaAR did not terminate until the concentration reached over 70 g/L.
Although overexpression the genes did not improve growth rate at high Na+ concentrations, the overexpression of nhaA and nhaR together led to a 25% increase in lactate production. Thus, the observed (absence of) impact that these genetic modifications had on growth rate is a poor indicator of their effect on acid accumulation. The overexpression of nhaAR did not cause faster lactate production, but permitted the culture to continue accumulating lactate at 10% greater Na+ concentration.||