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Biophys J. 2002 Apr;82(4):1809-17.

Binding and diffusion of CheR molecules within a cluster of membrane receptors.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom.


Adaptation of the attractant response in Escherichia coli is attributable to the methylation of its transmembrane chemotactic receptors by the methyltransferase CheR. This protein contains two binding domains, one for the sites of methylation themselves and the other for a flexible tether at the C terminus of the receptor. We have explored the theoretical consequences of this binding geometry for a CheR molecule associated with a cluster of chemotactic receptors. Calculations show that the CheR molecule will bind with high net affinity to the receptor lattice, having a high probability of being attached by one or both of its domains at any instant of time. Because of the relatively low affinity of its individual domains and the close proximity of neighboring receptors, it is likely that when one domain unbinds it will reattach to the array before the other domain unbinds. Stochastic simulations show that the enzyme will move through the receptor cluster in a hand-over-hand fashion, like a gibbon swinging through the branches of a tree. We explore the possible consequences of this motion, which we term "molecular brachiation", for chemotactic adaptation and suggest that a similar mechanism may be operative in other large assemblies of protein molecules.

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