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J Biol Chem. 1999 May 7;274(19):13223-8.

Co-translocation of a periplasmic enzyme complex by a hitchhiker mechanism through the bacterial tat pathway.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Chimie Bactérienne, UPR9043 CNRS, Institut de Biologie Structurale et Microbiologie, 31 chemin Joseph Aiguier, 13402 Marseille cedex 20, France.


Bacterial periplasmic nickel-containing hydrogenases are composed of a small subunit containing a twin-arginine signal sequence and a large subunit devoid of an export signal. To understand how the large subunit is translocated into the periplasm, we cloned the hyb operon encoding the hydrogenase 2 of Escherichia coli, constructed a deletion mutant, and studied the mechanism of translocation of hydrogenase 2. The small subunit (HybO) or the large subunit (HybC) accumulated in the cytoplasm as a precursor when either of them was expressed in the absence of the other subunit. Therefore, contrary to most classical secretory proteins, the signal sequence of the small subunit itself is not sufficient for membrane targeting and translocation if the large subunit is missing. On the other hand, the small subunit was required not only for membrane targeting of the large subunit, but also for the acquisition of nickel by the large subunit. Most interestingly, the signal sequence of the small subunit determines whether the large subunit follows the Sec or the twin-arginine translocation pathway. Taken together, these results provide for the first time compelling evidence for a naturally occurring hitchhiker co-translocation mechanism in bacteria.

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