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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Aug;45(4):983-95.

Donor strand complementation mechanism in the biogenesis of non-pilus systems.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Uppsala Biomedical Center, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.


The F1 antigen of Yersinia pestis belongs to a class of non-pilus adhesins assembled via a classical chaperone-usher pathway. Such pathways consist of PapD-like chaperones that bind subunits and pilot them to the outer membrane usher, where they are assembled into surface structures. In a recombinant Escherichia coli model system, chaperone-subunit (Caf1M:Caf1n) complexes accumulate in the periplasm. Three independent methods showed that these complexes are rod- or coil-shaped linear arrays of Caf1 subunits capped at one end by a single copy of Caf1M chaperone. Deletion and point mutagenesis identified an N-terminal donor strand region of Caf1 that was essential for polymerization in vitro, in the periplasm and at the cell surface, but not for chaperone-subunit interaction. Partial protease digestion of periplasmic complexes revealed that this region becomes buried upon formation of Caf1:Caf1 contacts. These results show that, despite the capsule-like appearance of F1 antigen, the basic structure is assembled as a linear array of subunits held together by intersubunit donor strand complementation. This example shows that strikingly different architectures can be achieved by the same general principle of donor strand complementation and suggests that a similar basic polymer organization will be shared by all surface structures assembled by classical chaperone-usher pathways.

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