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J Mol Biol. 1988 Sep 5;203(1):275-8.

Naturally crystalline porin in the outer membrane of Bordetella pertussis.

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Laboratory of Physical Biology, National Institute of Arthritis, Bethesda, MD 20892.


The Gram-negative bacterium Bordetella pertussis is the agent responsible for whooping-cough, and much interest has focused on the functions, structures and immunological properties of the molecules exposed at its outer surface. We have found by electron microscopy that cells of two strains of B. pertussis are covered with a crystalline surface lattice. This lattice is not an extrinsic layer of high molecular weight glycoproteins, such as occur on many other bacteria, but is a natural crystal of an intrinsic membrane protein of 40,000 Mr. This molecule has been shown to be an anion-selective member of an extensive family of proteins ("porins") that render Gram-negative outer membranes permeable to solutes of up to approximately 650 Mr. Computer image processing reveals a trimeric channel-like structure that closely resembles other porins visualized in artificial arrays after treatment with detergents, but in a novel (p2) crystal form. This correlation provides a "missing link" between earlier structural studies based on artificial arrays of porins (of undefined physiological status), and membrane-permeabilization experiments with solubilized porins (in undefined structural states). For the strains characterized so far, crystallinity of the porin surface lattice shows an intriguing correlation with nonpathogenicity.

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