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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 20;107(16):7509-14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0913199107. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

Short N-terminal sequences package proteins into bacterial microcompartments.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.


Hundreds of bacterial species produce proteinaceous microcompartments (MCPs) that act as simple organelles by confining the enzymes of metabolic pathways that have toxic or volatile intermediates. A fundamental unanswered question about bacterial MCPs is how enzymes are packaged within the protein shell that forms their outer surface. Here, we report that a short N-terminal peptide is necessary and sufficient for packaging enzymes into the lumen of an MCP involved in B(12)-dependent 1,2-propanediol utilization (Pdu MCP). Deletion of 10 or 14 amino acids from the N terminus of the propionaldehyde dehydrogenase (PduP) enzyme, which is normally found within the Pdu MCP, substantially impaired packaging, with minimal effects on its enzymatic activity. Fusion of the 18 N-terminal amino acids from PduP to GFP, GST, or maltose-binding protein resulted in their encapsulation within MCPs. Bioinformatic analyses revealed N-terminal extensions in two additional Pdu proteins and three proteins from two unrelated MCPs, suggesting that N-terminal peptides may be used to package proteins into diverse MCPs. The potential uses of MCP assembly principles in nature and in biotechnology are discussed.

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