The Mechanistic Basis of Myxococcus xanthus Rippling Behavior and Its Physiological Role during Predation
Myxococcus xanthus cells self-organize into periodic bands of traveling waves, termed ripples, during multicellular fruiting body development and predation on other bacteria. To investigate the mechanistic basis of rippling behavior and its physiological role during predation by this Gram-negative soil bacterium, we have used an approach that combines mathematical modeling with experimental observations. Specifically, we developed an agent-based model (ABM) to simulate rippling behavior that employs a new signaling mechanism to trigger cellular reversals. The ABM has demonstrated that three ingredients are sufficient to generate rippling behavior: (i) side-to-side signaling between two cells that causes one of the cells to reverse, (ii) a minimal refractory time period after each reversal during which cells cannot reverse again, and (iii) physical interactions that cause the cells to locally align. To explain why rippling behavior appears as a consequence of the presence of prey, we postulate that prey-associated macromolecules indirectly induce ripples by stimulating side-to-side contact-mediated signaling. In parallel to the simulations, M. xanthus predatory rippling behavior was experimentally observed and analyzed using time-lapse microscopy. A formalized relationship between the wavelength, reversal time, and cell velocity has been predicted by the simulations and confirmed by the experimental data. Furthermore, the results suggest that the physiological role of rippling behavior during M. xanthus predation is to increase the rate of spreading over prey cells due to increased side-to-side contact-mediated signaling and to allow predatory cells to remain on the prey longer as a result of more periodic cell motility.