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Eur J Biochem. 2002 Jul;269(13):3131-41.

Unique structural determinants in the signal peptides of "spontaneously" inserting thylakoid membrane proteins.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.


A series of thylakoid membrane proteins, including PsbX, PsbY and PsbW, are synthesized with cleavable signal peptides yet inserted using none of the known Sec/SRP/Tat/Oxa1-type insertion machineries. Here, we show that, although superficially similar to Sec-type signal peptides, these thylakoidal signal peptides contain very different determinants. First, we show that basic residues in the N-terminal domain are not important, ruling out electrostatic interactions as an essential element of the insertion mechanism, and implying a fundamentally different targeting mechanism when compared with the structurally similar M13 procoat. Second, we show that acidic residues in the C-domain are essential for the efficient maturation of the PsbX and PsbY-A1 peptides, and that even a single substitution of the -5 Glu by Val in the PsbX signal peptide abolishes maturation in the thylakoid. Processing efficiency is restored to an extent, but not completely, by the highly hydrophilic Asn, implying that this domain is required to be hydrophilic, but preferably negatively charged, in order to present the cleavage site in an optimal manner. We show that substitution of the PsbX C-domain Glu residues by Val leads to a burial of the cleavage site within the bilayer although insertion is unaffected. Finally, we show that substitution of the Glu residues in the lumenal A2 loop of the PsbY polyprotein leads to a block in cleavage on the stromal side of the membrane, and present evidence that the PsbY-A2 signal peptide is required to be relatively hydrophilic and unable to adopt a transmembrane conformation on its own. These data indicate that, rather than being merely additional hydrophobic regions to promote insertion, the signal peptides of these thylakoid proteins are complex domains with uniquely stringent requirements in the C-domain and/or translocated loop regions.

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