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Eur J Biochem. 2001 Oct;268(19):5011-26.

The role of the TolC family in protein transport and multidrug efflux. From stereochemical certainty to mechanistic hypothesis.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, 80 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1GA, UK.


Gram-negative bacteria are enveloped by a system of two membranes, and they use specialized multicomponent, energy-driven pumps to transport molecules directly across this double-layered partition from the cell interior to the extra-cellular environment. One component of these pumps is embedded in the outer-membrane, and the paradigm for its structure and function is the TolC protein from Escherichia coli. A common component of a wide variety of efflux pumps, TolC and its homologues are involved in the export of chemically diverse molecules ranging from large protein toxins, such as alpha-hemolysin, to small toxic compounds, such as antibiotics. TolC family members thus play important roles in conferring pathogenic bacteria with both virulence and multidrug resistance. These pumps assemble reversibly in a transient process that brings together TolC or its homologue, an inner-membrane-associated periplasmic component, an integral inner-membrane translocase and the substrate itself. TolC can associate in this fashion with a variety of different partners to participate in the transport of diverse substrates. We review here the structure and function of TolC and the other components of the efflux/transport pump.

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