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Biochemistry. 2001 Feb 13;40(6):1835-43.

Lipid and signal peptide-induced conformational changes within the C-domain of Escherichia coli SecA protein.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA.


SecA ATPase is an essential component of the Sec-dependent protein translocation machinery. Upon interaction with the plasma membrane containing SecYE, preprotein, and ATP, SecA undergoes cycles of membrane insertion and retraction resulting in the translocation of segments of the preprotein to the trans side of the membrane. To study the structural basis of SecA function, we employed fluorescence spectroscopy along with collisional quenchers with a set of SecA proteins containing single tryptophan substitutions. Our data show that among the seven naturally occurring tryptophan residues of Escherichia coli SecA, only the three tryptophan residues contained within the C-domain contributed significantly to the fluorescence signal, and they occupied distinct local environments in solution: Trp723 and Trp775 were found to be relatively solvent accessible and inaccessible, respectively, while Trp701 displayed an intermediate level of solvent exposure. Exposure to increased temperature or interaction with model membranes or signal peptide elicited a similar conformational response from SecA based upon the fluorescence signals of the SecA-W775F and SecA-W723F mutant proteins. Specifically, Trp775 became more solvent exposed, while Trp723 became less solvent accessible under these conditions, indicating similarities in the overall conformational change of the C-domain promoted by temperature or translocation ligands. Only Trp701 did not respond in parallel to the different conditions, since its solvent accessibility changed only in the presence of signal peptide. These results provide the first detailed structural information about the C-domain of SecA and its response to translocation ligands, and they provide insight into the conformational changes within SecA that drive protein translocation.

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