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J Mol Biol. 2012 Sep 21;422(3):376-89. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2012.05.043. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

The C-terminal repeating units of CsgB direct bacterial functional amyloid nucleation.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0620, USA.


Curli are functional amyloids produced by enteric bacteria. The major curli fiber subunit, CsgA, self-assembles into an amyloid fiber in vitro. The minor curli subunit protein, CsgB, is required for CsgA polymerization on the cell surface. Both CsgA and CsgB are composed of five predicted β-strand-loop-β-strand-loop repeating units that feature conserved glutamine and asparagine residues. Because of this structural homology, we proposed that CsgB might form an amyloid template that initiates CsgA polymerization on the cell surface. To test this model, we purified wild-type CsgB and found that it self-assembled into amyloid fibers in vitro. Preformed CsgB fibers seeded CsgA polymerization as did soluble CsgB added to the surface of cells secreting soluble CsgA. To define the molecular basis of CsgB nucleation, we generated a series of mutants that removed each of the five repeating units. Each of these CsgB deletion mutants was capable of self-assembly in vitro. In vivo, membrane-localized mutants lacking the first, second, or third repeating units were able to convert CsgA into fibers. However, mutants missing either the fourth or fifth repeating units were unable to complement a csgB mutant. These mutant proteins were not localized to the outer membrane but were instead secreted into the extracellular milieu. Synthetic CsgB peptides corresponding to repeating units 1, 2, and 4 self-assembled into ordered amyloid polymers, while peptides corresponding to repeating units 3 and 5 did not, suggesting that there are redundant amyloidogenic domains in CsgB. Our results suggest a model where the rapid conversion of CsgB from unstructured protein to a β-sheet-rich amyloid template anchored to the cell surface is mediated by the C-terminal repeating units.

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