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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Mar;47(5):1367-83.

A conserved region within the Bordetella pertussis autotransporter BrkA is necessary for folding of its passenger domain.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of British Columbia, 300-6174 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada.


Autotransporter secretion represents a unique mechanism that Gram-negative bacteria employ to deliver proteins to their cell surface. BrkA is a Bordetella pertussis autotransporter protein that mediates serum resistance and contributes to adherence of the bacterium to host cells. BrkA is a 103 kDa protein that is cleaved to form a 73 kDa alpha-domain and a 30 kDa beta domain. The alpha domain, also referred to as the passenger domain, is responsible for the effector functions of the protein, whereas the beta domain serves as a transporter. In an effort to characterize BrkA secretion, we have shown that BrkA has a 42 amino acid signal peptide for transit across the cytoplasmic membrane, and a translocation unit made up of a short linker region fused to the beta-domain to ferry the passenger domain to the bacterial surface through a channel formed by the beta-domain. In this report, we provide genetic, biochemical and structural evidence demonstrating that a region within the BrkA passenger (Glu601-Ala692) is necessary for folding the passenger. This region is not required for surface display in the outer membrane protease OmpT-deficient Escherichia coli strain UT5600. However, a BrkA mutant protein bearing a deletion in this region is susceptible to digestion when expressed in E. coli strains expressing OmpT suggesting that the region is required to maintain a stable structure. The instability of the deletion mutant can be rescued by surface expressing Glu601-Ala692in trans suggesting that this region is acting as an intramolecular chaperone to effect folding of the passenger concurrent with or following translocation across the outer membrane.

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