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Biochemistry. 2013 Apr 16;52(15):2638-48. doi: 10.1021/bi3016108. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Monomeric TonB and the Ton box are required for the formation of a high-affinity transporter-TonB complex.

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Department of Chemistry and Center for Membrane Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4319, USA.


The energy-dependent uptake of trace nutrients by Gram-negative bacteria involves the coupling of an outer membrane transport protein to the transperiplasmic protein TonB. In this study, a soluble construct of Escherichia coli TonB (residues 33-239) was used to determine the affinity of TonB for outer membrane transporters BtuB, FecA, and FhuA. Using fluorescence anisotropy, TonB(33-239) was found to bind with high affinity (tens of nanomolar) to both BtuB and FhuA; however, no high-affinity binding to FecA was observed. In BtuB, the high-affinity binding of TonB(33-239) was eliminated by mutations in the Ton box, which yield transport-defective protein, or by the addition of a Colicin E3 fragment, which stabilizes the Ton box in a folded state. These results indicate that transport requires a high-affinity transporter-TonB interaction that is mediated by the Ton box. Characterization of TonB(33-239) using double electron-electron resonance (DEER) demonstrates that a significant population of TonB(33-239) exists as a dimer; moreover, interspin distances are in approximate agreement with interlocked dimers observed previously by crystallography for shorter TonB fragments. When the TonB(33-239) dimer is bound to the outer membrane transporter, DEER shows that the TonB(33-239) dimer is converted to a monomeric form, suggesting that a dimer-monomer conversion takes place at the outer membrane during the TonB-dependent transport cycle.

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