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Mol Microbiol. 2007 Jul;65(2):441-53. Epub 2007 Jun 18.

Studies on colicin B translocation: FepA is gated by TonB.

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School of Molecular Biosciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4234, USA.


Colicin B is a 55 kDa dumbbell-shaped protein toxin that uses the TonB system (outer membrane transporter, FepA, and three cytoplasmic membrane proteins TonB/ExbB/ExbD) to enter and kill Escherichia coli. FepA is a 22-stranded beta-barrel with its lumen filled by an amino-terminal globular domain containing an N-terminal semiconserved region, known as the TonB box, to which TonB binds. To investigate the mechanism of colicin B translocation across the outer membrane, we engineered cysteine (Cys) substitutions in the globular domain of FepA. Colicin B caused increased exposure to biotin maleimide labelling of all Cys substitutions, but to different degrees, with TonB as well as the FepA TonB box required for all increases. Because of the large increases in exposure for Cys residues from T13 to T51, we conclude that colicin B is translocated through the lumen of FepA, rather than along the lipid-barrel interface or through another protein. Part of the FepA globular domain (residues V91-V142) proved relatively refractory to labelling, indicating either that the relevant Cys residues were sequestered by an unknown protein or that a significant portion of the FepA globular domain remained inside the barrel, requiring concomitant conformational rearrangement of colicin B during its translocation. Unexpectedly, TonB was also required for colicin-induced exposure of the FepA TonB box, suggesting that TonB binds FepA at a different site prior to interaction with the TonB box.

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