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EMBO J. 1993 Aug;12(8):3007-16.

Conversion of the FhuA transport protein into a diffusion channel through the outer membrane of Escherichia coli.

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Universität Tübingen, Germany.


The FhuA receptor protein is involved in energy-coupled transport of Fe3+ via ferrichrome through the outer membrane of Escherichia coli. Since no energy source is known in the outer membrane it is assumed that energy is provided through the action of the TonB, ExbB and ExbD proteins, which are anchored to the cytoplasmic membrane. By deleting 34 amino acid residues of a putative cell surface exposed loop, FhuA was converted from a ligand specific transport protein into a TonB independent and nonspecific diffusion channel. The FhuA deletion derivative FhuA delta 322-355 formed stable channels in black lipid membranes, in contrast to wild-type FhuA which did not increase membrane conductance. The single-channel conductance of the FhuA mutant channels was at least three times larger than that of the general diffusion porins of E. coli outer membrane. It is proposed that the basic structure of FhuA in the outer membrane is a channel formed by beta-barrels. Since the loop extending from residue 316 to 356 is part of the active site of FhuA, it probably controls the permeability of the channel. The transport-active conformation of FhuA is mediated by a TonB-induced conformational change in response to the energized cytoplasmic membrane. The ferrichrome transport rate into cells expressing FhuA delta 322-355 increased linearly with increasing substrate concentration (from 0.5 to 20 microM), in contrast to FhuA wild-type cells, which displayed saturation at 5 microM. This implies that in wild-type cells ferrichrome transport through the outer membrane is the rate-limiting step and that TonB, ExbB and ExbD are only required for outer membrane transport.

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