Peptidoglycan, also known as murein, is a polymer consisting of sugars and amino acids that forms a mesh-like layer outside the plasma membrane of bacteria (but not Archaea), forming the cell wall. The sugar component consists of alternating residues of β-(1,4) linked N-acetylglucosamine and N-acetylmuramic acid. Attached to the N-acetylmuramic acid is a peptide chain of three to five amino acids. The peptide chain can be cross-linked to the peptide chain of another strand forming the 3D mesh-like layer. Some Archaea have a similar layer of pseudopeptidoglycan or pseudomurein, where the sugar residues are β-(1,3) linked N-acetylglycosamine and N-acetyltalosaminuronic acid. That is why the cell wall of Archaea is insensitive to lysozyme. Peptidoglycan serves a structural role in the bacterial cell wall, giving structural strength, as well as counteracting the osmotic pressure of the cytoplasm. A common misconception is that peptidoglycan gives the cell its shape; however, whereas peptidoglycan helps maintain the structure of the cell, it is actually the MreB protein that facilitates cell shape. Peptidoglycan is also involved in binary fission during bacterial cell reproduction
The peptidoglycan layer is substantially thicker in Gram-positive bacteria (20 to 80 nanometers) than in Gram-negative bacteria (7 to 8 nanometers), with the attachment of the S-layer. Peptidoglycan forms around 90% of the dry weight of Gram-positive bacteria but only 10% of Gram-negative strains. In Gram-positive strains, it is important in attachment roles and stereotyping purposes. For both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, particles of approximately 2 nm can pass through the peptidoglycan.
The peptidoglycan layer in the bacterial cell wall is a crystal lattice structure formed from linear chains of two alternating amino sugars, namely N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc or NAG) and N-acetylmuramic acid (MurNAc or NAM). The alternating sugars are connected by a β-(1,4)-glycosidic bond. Each MurNAc is attached to a short (4- to 5-residue) amino acid chain, containing D-alanine, D-glutamic acid, and meso-diaminopimelic acid in the case of Escherichia coli (a Gram negative bacteria) or L-alanine, D-glutamine, L-lysine, and D-alanine in the case of Staphylococcus aureus (a Gram positive bacteria). These amino acids, except the L-amino acids, do not occur in proteins and are thought to help protect against attacks by most peptidases.
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