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J Biol Chem. 2002 Mar 1;277(9):7556-66. Epub 2001 Dec 17.

Conjugative plasmid protein TrwB, an integral membrane type IV secretion system coupling protein. Detailed structural features and mapping of the active site cleft.

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Institut de Biologia Molecular de Barcelona, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, c/Jordi Girona, 18-26, 08034 Barcelona, Spain.


Bacterial conjugation is an example of macromolecular trafficking between cells and responsible for the spreading of antibiotic resistance among bacteria. It involves translocation of single-stranded DNA across membranes through a type IV secretion system. A coupling protein links the DNA-processing nucleoprotein complex, the relaxosome, with the transport apparatus during cell mating. In Escherichia coli plasmid R388 such a protein is TrwB, a basic integral inner-membrane nucleoside-triphosphate-binding protein. TrwB is the structural prototype for the type IV secretion system coupling proteins, a family of proteins essential for macromolecular transport between cells and export. The structure of a soluble TrwB variant unveils an elongated molecule with six equivalent protein units featuring a spherical quaternary structure, leaving a central channel. The structures of the non-liganded protein and four different complexes with substrate analogues and products allow the precise description of the active site architecture. The active sites are located at the interface between protomers, each of them shaped mainly by residues of one monomer, but including two crucial arginine residues belonging to the adjacent molecule. Upon substrate binding and putative hydrolysis, conformational changes are transferred from the external surface to the interior central channel.

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