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Mol Microbiol. 2000 Nov;38(3):639-49.

A 76-residue polypeptide of colicin E9 confers receptor specificity and inhibits the growth of vitamin B12-dependent Escherichia coli 113/3 cells.

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Colicin Research Group, Schools of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.


The mechanism by which E colicins recognize and then bind to BtuB receptors in the outer membrane of Escherichia coli cells is a poorly understood first step in the process that results in cell killing. Using N- and C-terminal deletions of the N-terminal 448 residues of colicin E9, we demonstrated that the smallest polypeptide encoded by one of these constructs that retained receptor-binding activity consisted of residues 343-418. The results of the in vivo receptor-binding assay were supported by an alternative competition assay that we developed using a fusion protein consisting of residues 1-497 of colicin E9 fused to the green fluorescent protein as a fluorescent probe of binding to BtuB in E. coli cells. Using this improved assay, we demonstrated competitive inhibition of the binding of the fluorescent fusion protein by the minimal receptor-binding domain of colicin E9 and by vitamin B12. Mutations located in the minimum R domain that abolished or reduced the biological activity of colicin E9 similarly affected the competitive binding of the mutant colicin protein to BtuB. The sequence of the 76-residue R domain in colicin E9 is identical to that found in colicin E3, an RNase type E colicin. Comparative sequence analysis of colicin E3 and cloacin DF13, which is also an RNase-type colicin but uses the IutA receptor to bind to E. coli cells, revealed significant sequence homology throughout the two proteins, with the exception of a region of 92 residues that included the minimum R domain. We constructed two chimeras between cloacin DF13 and colicin E9 in which (i) the DNase domain of colicin E9 was fused onto the T+R domains of cloacin DF13; and (ii) the R domain and DNase domain of colicin E9 were fused onto the T domain of cloacin DF13. The killing activities of these two chimeric colicins against indicator strains expressing BtuB or IutA receptors support the conclusion that the 76 residues of colicin E9 confer receptor specificity. The minimum receptor-binding domain polypeptide inhibited the growth of the vitamin B12-dependent E. coli 113/3 mutant cells, demonstrating that vitamin B12 and colicin E9 binding is mutually exclusive.

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