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EMBO J. 1996 Oct 1;15(19):5202-8.

In vivo membrane assembly of the E.coli polytopic protein, melibiose permease, occurs via a Sec-independent process which requires the protonmotive force.

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Laboratoire J.Maetz, Departement de Biologie cellulaire et moléculairedu Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Villefranche-sur-mer, France.


To investigate the mechanism of polytopic membrane protein insertion in Escherichia coli, we have examined the protein and energy requirements for in vivo membrane assembly of the prototypic 12 transmembrane domain sugar co-transporter, melibiose permease (MelB). MelB membrane assembly was analyzed both kinetically, by pulse labeling experiments, and functionally by measuring the activity of the inserted permease. Strikingly, the rate of MelB membrane assembly is decreased approximately 4-fold upon dissipation of the transmembrane electrochemical proton gradient, delta(mu)H+, indicative of a strong requirement for delta(mu)H+. Interestingly, selective dissipation of either the electrical (delta(psi)) or the chemical (delta(pH)) component of delta(mu)H+ demonstrates that either form of energy is required for MelB membrane assembly. In contrast, MelB membrane assembly does not require SecA, SecY or SecE, all three proteins which are strictly required for protein translocation. Neither the rate of MelB membrane assembly nor the amount of functional permease is affected by inactivation or depletion of these Sec proteins. These results strongly suggest that polytopic membrane proteins such as MelB insert into the cytoplasmic membrane by a mechanism fundamentally different from protein translocation.

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