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Mol Microbiol. 1999 Mar;31(6):1795-807.

VirE1 is a specific molecular chaperone for the exported single-stranded-DNA-binding protein VirE2 in Agrobacterium.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195-7242, USA.


Agrobacterium tumefaciens induces tumours on plants by transferring a nucleoprotein complex, the T-complex, from the bacterium to the plant cell. The T-complex consists of a single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) segment, the T-DNA, and VirD2, an endonuclease covalently attached to the 5' end of the T-DNA. A type IV secretion system encoded by the virB operon and virD4 is required for the entry of the T-complex and VirE2, a ssDNA-binding protein, into plant cells. The VirE1 protein is specifically required for the export of the VirE2 protein, as demonstrated by extracellular complementation and tumour formation. In this report, using a yeast two-hybrid system, we demonstrated that the VirE1 and VirE2 proteins interact and confirmed this interaction by in vitro binding assays. Although VirE2 is a ssDNA-binding protein, addition of ssDNA into the binding buffer did not interfere with the interaction of VirE1 and VirE2. VirE2 also interacts with itself, but the interaction between VirE1 and VirE2 is stronger than the VirE2 self-interaction, as measured in a lacZ reporter gene assay. In addition, the interaction of VirE2 with itself is inhibited by VirE1, indicating that VirE2 binds VirE1 preferentially. Analysis of various virE2 deletions indicated that the VirE1 interaction domain of VirE2 overlaps the VirE2 self-interaction domain. Incubation of extracts from Escherichia coli overexpressing His-VirE1 with the extracts of E. coli overexpressing His-VirE2 increased the yield of His-VirE2 in the soluble fraction. In a similar purified protein solubility assay, His-VirE1 increased the amount of His-VirE2 partitioning into the soluble fraction. In Agrobacterium, VirE2 was undetectable in the soluble protein fraction unless VirE1 was co-expressed. When urea was added to solubilize any large protein aggregates, a low level of VirE2 was detected. These results indicate that VirE1 prevents VirE2 from aggregating, enhances the stability of VirE2 and, perhaps, maintains VirE2 in an export-competent state. Analysis of the deduced amino acid sequence of the VirE1 protein revealed that the VirE1 protein shares a number of properties with molecular chaperones that are involved in the transport of specific proteins into animal and plant cells using type III secretion systems. We suggest that VirE1 functions as a specific molecular chaperone for VirE2, the first such chaperone linked to the presumed type IV secretion system.

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