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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 8;108(6):2486-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015617108. Epub 2011 Jan 21.

The complex that inserts lipopolysaccharide into the bacterial outer membrane forms a two-protein plug-and-barrel.

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Chemical Biology Graduate Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


The cell surfaces of Gram-negative bacteria are composed of lipopolysaccharide (LPS). This glycolipid is found exclusively in the outer leaflet of the asymmetric outer membrane (OM), where it forms a barrier to the entry of toxic hydrophobic molecules into the cell. LPS typically contains six fatty acyl chains and up to several hundred sugar residues. It is biosynthesized in the cytosol and must then be transported across two membranes and an aqueous intermembrane space to the cell surface. These processes are required for the viability of most Gram-negative organisms. The integral membrane β-barrel LptD and the lipoprotein LptE form an essential complex in the OM, which is necessary for LPS assembly. It is not known how this complex translocates large, amphipathic LPS molecules across the OM to the outer leaflet. Here, we show that LptE resides within the LptD β-barrel both in vitro and in vivo. LptD/E associate via an extensive interface; in one specific interaction, LptE contacts a predicted extracellular loop of LptD through the lumen of the β-barrel. Disrupting this interaction site compromises the biogenesis of LptD. This unprecedented two-protein plug-and-barrel architecture suggests how LptD/E can insert LPS from the periplasm directly into the outer leaflet of the OM to establish the asymmetry of the bilayer.

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