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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 Jan;1834(1):127-36. doi: 10.1016/j.bbapap.2012.09.002. Epub 2012 Sep 12.

OmpA can form folded and unfolded oligomers.

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Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO), Center for Insoluble Protein Structures (inSPIN), Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Gustav Wieds Vej 14, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.


The monomeric outer membrane protein OmpA from Escherichia coli has long served as a model protein for studying the folding and membrane insertion of β-barrel membrane proteins. Here we report that when OmpA is refolded in limiting amounts of surfactant (close to the cmc), it has a high propensity to form folded and unfolded oligomers. The oligomers exist both in a folded and (partially) unfolded form which both dissociate under denaturing conditions. Oligomerization does not require the involvement of the periplasmic domain and is not strongly affected by ionic strength. The folded dimers can be isolated and show native-like secondary structure; they are resistant to proteolytic attack and do not dissociate in high surfactant concentrations, indicating high kinetic stability once formed. Remarkably, OmpA also forms significant amounts of higher order structures when refolding in the presence of lipid vesicles. We suggest that oligomerization occurs by domain swapping favored by the high local concentration of OmpA molecules congregating on the same micelle or vesicle. In this model, the unfolded oligomer is stabilized by a small number of intermolecular β-strand contacts and subsequently folds to a more stable state where these intermolecular contacts are consolidated in a native-like fashion by contacts between complementary β-strands from different molecules. Our model is supported by the ability of complementary fragments to associate with each other in vitro. Oligomerization is probably avoided in the cell by the presence of cellular chaperones which maintain the protein in a monomeric state.

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