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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 16;101(11):3945-50. Epub 2004 Mar 4.

Docking of cytosolic chaperone-substrate complexes at the membrane ATPase during flagellar type III protein export.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Cambridge University, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1QP, United Kingdom.


Bacterial type III protein export underlies flagellum assembly and delivery of virulence factors into eukaryotic cells. The sequence of protein interactions underlying the export pathway are poorly characterized; in particular, it is not known how chaperoned substrates in the cytosol are engaged by the membrane-localized export apparatus. We have identified a stalled intermediate export complex in the flagellar type III export pathway of Salmonella typhimurium by generating dominant-negative chaperone variants that are export-defective and arrest flagellar assembly in the wild-type bacterium. These chaperone variants bound their specific export substrates strongly and severely reduced their export. They also attenuated export of other flagellar proteins, indicating that inhibition occurs at a common step in the pathway. Unlike the cytosolic wild-type chaperone, the variants localized to the inner membrane, but not in the absence of the flagellar type III export apparatus. Membrane localization persisted in fliOPQR, flhB, flhA, fliJ, and fliH null mutants lacking specific flagellar export components but depended on the presence of the membrane-associated ATPase FliI. After expression of the variant chaperones in Salmonella, a stalled intermediate export complex, which contained chaperone, substrate, and the FliI ATPase with its regulator FliH, was isolated. Neither chaperone nor substrate alone was able to interact with liposome-associated FliI, but the chaperone-substrate-FliI(FliH) complex was assembled when chaperone was prebound to its substrate. Our data establish a key event in the type III protein export mechanism, docking of the cytosolic chaperone-substrate complex at the ATPase of the membrane-export apparatus.

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