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J Biol Chem. 2002 Aug 16;277(33):29825-31. Epub 2002 May 20.

Genetic analysis of the twin arginine translocator secretion pathway in bacteria.

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Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


The twin arginine translocation (Tat) pathway of bacteria and plant chloroplasts mediates translocation of essentially folded proteins across the cytoplasmic membrane. The detailed understanding of the mechanism of protein targeting to the Tat pathway has been hampered by the lack of screening or selection systems suitable for genetic analysis. We report here the development of a highly quantitative protein reporter for genetic analysis of Tat-specific export. Specifically, export via the Tat pathway rescues green fluorescent protein (GFP) fused to an SsrA peptide from degradation by the cytoplasmic proteolytic ClpXP machinery. As a result, cellular fluorescence is determined by the amount of GFP in the periplasmic space. We used the GFP-SsrA reporter to isolate gain-of-function mutants of a Tat-specific leader peptide and for the genetic analysis of the "invariant" signature RR dipeptide motif. Flow cytometric screening of trimethylamine N-oxide reductase (TorA) leader peptide libraries resulted in isolation of six gain-of function mutants that conferred significantly higher steady-state levels of export relative to the wild-type TorA leader. All the gain-of-function mutations occurred within or near the (S/T)RRXFLK consensus motif, highlighting the significance of this region in interactions with the Tat export machinery. Randomization of the consensus RR dipeptide in the TorA leader revealed that a basic side chain (R/K) is required at the first position whereas the second position can also accept Gln and Asn in addition to basic amino acids. This result indicates that twin arginine translocation does not require the presence of an arginine dipeptide within the conserved sequence motif.

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