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Cell. 1981 Jun;24(3):707-17.

Protein localization in E. coli: is there a common step in the secretion of periplasmic and outer-membrane proteins?


An E. coli strain carrying a fusion of the MalE and lacZ genes is induced for the synthesis of a hybrid protein, consisting of the N-terminal part of the maltose-binding protein and the enzymatically active C-terminal part of beta-galactosidase, by addition of maltose to cells. The secretion of the protein is initiated by the signal peptide attached to the N terminus of the maltose-binding protein sequence, but is not completed, presumably because the beta-galactosidase moiety of the hybrid protein interferes with the passage of the polypeptide through the cytoplasmic membrane. Thus the protein becomes stuck to the cytoplasmic membrane. Under such conditions, periplasmic proteins, including maltose-binding protein (encoded by the malE gene) and alkaline phosphatase, and the major outer-membrane proteins, including OmpF, OmpA and probably lipoprotein, are synthesized as precursor forms with unprocessed signal sequences. This effect is observed within 15 min after high levels of induction are achieved. The simplest explanation for these results and those of pulse-chase experiments is that specific sites in the cytoplasmic membrane become progressively occupied by the hybrid protein, resulting in an inhibition of normal localization and processing of periplasmic and outer-membrane proteins. These results suggest that most of the periplasmic and outer-membrane proteins share a common step in localization before the polypeptide becomes accessible to the processing enzyme. If this interpretation is correct, we can estimate that an E. coli cell has roughly 2 x 10(4) such sites in the cytoplasmic membrane. A system is described for detecting the precursor of any exported protein.

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