Shape changes, extended processes, and other surface elaborations are associated with cellular differentiation, and the cell membranes involved with these developmental changes often are reshaped without a major alteration in biochemical composition. Caulobacter crescentus produces a hexagonally-packed periodic surface layer that covers the entire cell and further, mimics some of the membrane-mediated changes of higher organisms by forming a membranous stalk during its distinctive life cycle. Growth of the surface layer was examined during the cell cycle by treating synchronously growing cells with surface layer antibody, continuing growth, and then labeling for electron microscopy with a protein A-colloidal gold conjugate. Three regions of distinctive surface array biogenesis were resolved. The periodic surface layer on the main cell body was enlarged by insertion of new material at numerous uniformly distributed points. In contrast, the surface layer on the stalk appeared as entirely new synthesis. In examining growth of the stalk in subsequent generations, we noted that growth of stalk surface persisted at the stalk-cell body junction. The region of cell division also showed a pattern of entirely new surface layer production at late stages in division, similar to the stalk. The immunocytological method also facilitated a careful examination of stalk initiation and growth. Although initiation was under precise temporal and spatial regulation, the rate of stalk elongation was variable from cell to cell and apparently no longer under cell cycle control. The similarity of surface layer biogenesis on the stalk and the site of cell division may be a significant reflection of other events occurring at the cell pole. A model suggested by this and other studies that can account for the temporal pattern of polar morphogenesis is discussed, as is the potential relationship between the geometrically ordered surface array and the formation or maintenance of the stalk.

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