Dormant, bacterial endospores are the most resistant living structures known. The spore cell wall (cortex) maintains dormancy, core dehydration, and heat resistance. The cortex peptidoglycan has a unique, spore specific structure that enables it to fulfill its role. The cross-linking index of spore cortex peptidoglycan is very low, occurring at only 2.9% of the muramic acid residues compared to 33% in vegetative cells. The level of cross-linking of the cortex may be important in maintaining spore dormancy and heat resistance. Approximately 50% of the muramic acid residues in spore cortex are substituted with muramic δ-lactam. This modification is spore specific and is the major characteristic feature of the cortex. The muramic δ-lactam has no apparent role in establishing core dehydration, maintaining dormancy or heat resistance. However, the muramic δ-lactam residues are necessary for spore cortex hydrolysis during germination. They constitute part of the substrate recognition profile of the germination specific lytic enzymes (GSLEs) which are responsible for cortex hydrolysis.
Germination results in loss of dormant spore properties and hydrolysis of the cortex is essential for later germination events and outgrowth. Application of muropeptide analysis to determine peptidoglycan structural dynamics during germination has revealed an unexpected degree of complexity in peptidoglycan hydrolysis. At least three hydrolytic activities, an N-acetyl glucosaminidase, a lytic transglycosylase and a possible amidase, are involved. A non-hydrolytic acitivity, likely to be an epimerase of muramic acid also occurs early during germination.
The lytic transglycosylase generates anhydro-muropeptides which are released during germination and may be recycled during outgrowth to form part of the new vegetative cell wall.