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J Mol Biol. 1998 May 29;279(1):19-29.

The major coat protein of filamentous bacteriophage f1 specifically pairs in the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Filamentous bacteriophage are long, thin single-stranded DNA viruses that infect male strains of Escherichia coli without killing the host. Each phage contains approximately 2700 copies of the major coat protein, pVIII, which exists as a 5.2 kDa cytoplasmic membrane protein prior to incorporation into phage. Studies from a number of groups analyzing the behavior of wild-type and mutant pVIII in detergents suggested that pVIII might pair under these conditions. In order to test whether pVIII molecules pair in vivo in the cytoplasmic membrane, four plasmidencoded pVIII variants were constructed in which specific residues in the transmembrane region were mutated to cysteine in an attempt to stabilize any pair via disulfide bridges. Variants A35C and I39C were unable to complement phage with an amber mutation in gene VIII. The I39C variant was unable to be packaged into phage particles even though it was inserted into the membrane. In the case of A35C, the inability to complement was not due to a packaging defect because the variant protein could be packaged into phage in the presence of wild-type pVIII. Western blot analysis of cytoplasmic membrane samples revealed that the A35C variant formed stable disulfide dimers in vivo. Expression of A35C interfered with wild-type phage infection, indicating that the assembly machinery may recognize the disulfide dimers in some non-productive way. The results indicate that pVIII may specifically pair along a particular face in the cytoplasmic membrane prior to assembly; however, these pairs must be able to be separated in order for normal assembly to occur.

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