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J Bacteriol. 2005 Sep;187(18):6499-508.

TP0453, a concealed outer membrane protein of Treponema pallidum, enhances membrane permeability.

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Center for Microbial Pathogenesis, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Ave., Farmington, Connecticut 06030, USA.


The outer membrane of Treponema pallidum, the non-cultivable agent of venereal syphilis, contains a paucity of protein(s) which has yet to be definitively identified. In contrast, the outer membranes of gram-negative bacteria contain abundant immunogenic membrane-spanning beta-barrel proteins mainly involved in nutrient transport. The absence of orthologs of gram-negative porins and outer membrane nutrient-specific transporters in the T. pallidum genome predicts that nutrient transport across the outer membrane must differ fundamentally in T. pallidum and gram-negative bacteria. Here we describe a T. pallidum outer membrane protein (TP0453) that, in contrast to all integral outer membrane proteins of known structure, lacks extensive beta-sheet structure and does not traverse the outer membrane to become surface exposed. TP0453 is a lipoprotein with an amphiphilic polypeptide containing multiple membrane-inserting, amphipathic alpha-helices. Insertion of the recombinant, non-lipidated protein into artificial membranes results in bilayer destabilization and enhanced permeability. Our findings lead us to hypothesize that TP0453 is a novel type of bacterial outer membrane protein which may render the T. pallidum outer membrane permeable to nutrients while remaining inaccessible to antibody.

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