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J Bacteriol. 2010 Nov;192(22):5855-65. doi: 10.1128/JB.00747-10. Epub 2010 Sep 10.

Analysis of the intact surface layer of Caulobacter crescentus by cryo-electron tomography.

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Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


The surface layers (S layers) of those bacteria and archaea that elaborate these crystalline structures have been studied for 40 years. However, most structural analysis has been based on electron microscopy of negatively stained S-layer fragments separated from cells, which can introduce staining artifacts and allow rearrangement of structures prone to self-assemble. We present a quantitative analysis of the structure and organization of the S layer on intact growing cells of the Gram-negative bacterium Caulobacter crescentus using cryo-electron tomography (CET) and statistical image processing. Instead of the expected long-range order, we observed different regions with hexagonally organized subunits exhibiting short-range order and a broad distribution of periodicities. Also, areas of stacked double layers were found, and these increased in extent when the S-layer protein (RsaA) expression level was elevated by addition of multiple rsaA copies. Finally, we combined high-resolution amino acid residue-specific Nanogold labeling and subtomogram averaging of CET volumes to improve our understanding of the correlation between the linear protein sequence and the structure at the 2-nm level of resolution that is presently available. The results support the view that the U-shaped RsaA monomer predicted from negative-stain tomography proceeds from the N terminus at one vertex, corresponding to the axis of 3-fold symmetry, to the C terminus at the opposite vertex, which forms the prominent 6-fold symmetry axis. Such information will help future efforts to analyze subunit interactions and guide selection of internal sites for display of heterologous protein segments.

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