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Mol Microbiol. 1999 Sep;33(5):1037-49.

The beta-barrel domain of FhuADelta5-160 is sufficient for TonB-dependent FhuA activities of Escherichia coli.

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Mikrobiologie/Membranphysiologie, Universität Tübingen, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


FhuA in the outer membrane of Escherichia coli serves as a transporter for ferrichrome, the antibiotics albomycin and rifamycin CGP4832, colicin M, and as receptor for phages T1, T5 and phi80. The previously determined crystal structure reveals that residues 160-714 of the mature protein form a beta-barrel that is closed from the periplasmic side by the globular N-proximal fragment, residues 1-159, designated the cork. In this study, deletion of the cork resulted in a stable protein, FhuADelta5-160, that was incorporated in the outer membrane. Cells that synthesized FhuADelta5-160 displayed a higher sensitivity to large antibiotics such as erythromycin, rifamycin, bacitracin and vancomycin, and grew on maltotetraose and maltopentaose in the absence of LamB. Higher concentrations of ferrichrome supported growth of a tonB mutant that synthesized FhuADelta5-160. These results demonstrate non-specific diffusion of compounds across the outer membrane of cells that synthesize FhuADelta5-160. However, growth of a FhuADelta5-160 tonB wild-type strain occurred at low ferrichrome concentrations, and ferrichrome was transported at about 45% of the FhuA wild-type rate despite the lack of ferrichrome binding sites provided by the cork. FhuADelta5-160 conferred sensitivity to the phages and colicin M at levels similar to that of wild-type FhuA, and to albomycin and rifamycin CGP 4832. The activity of FhuADelta5-160 depended on TonB, although the mutant lacks the TonB box (residues 7-11) previously implicated in the interaction of FhuA with TonB. CCCP inhibited tonB-dependent transport of ferrichrome through FhuADelta5-160. FhuADelta5-160 still functions as a specific transporter, and sites in addition to the TonB box are involved in the TonB-mediated response of FhuA to the proton gradient of the cytoplasmic membrane. It is proposed that TonB interacts with the TonB box of FhuA and with the beta-barrel to release ferrichrome from the FhuA binding sites and to open the channel in FhuA. For transport of ferrichrome through the open channel of FhuADelta5-160, interaction of TonB with the beta-barrel is sufficient to release ferrichrome from the residual binding sites at the beta-barrel and to induce the active conformation of the L4 loop at the cell surface for infection by the TonB-dependent phages T1 and phi80.

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