Bacterial virulence factors are typically surface-associated or secreted molecules that in Gram-negative bacteria must cross the outer membrane (OM). Protein translocation across the bacterial OM is not well understood. To elucidate this process we studied P pilus biogenesis in Escherichia coli. We present high-resolution electron micrographs of the OM usher PapC and show that it forms an oligomeric complex containing a channel approximately 2 nm in diameter. This is large enough to accommodate pilus subunits or the linear tip fibrillum of the pilus but not large enough to accommodate the final 6.8- nm-wide helical pilus rod. We show that P pilus rods can be unraveled into linear fibers by incubation in 50% glycerol. Thus, they are likely to pass through the usher in this unwound form. Packaging of these fibers into their final helical structure would only occur outside the cell, a process that may drive outward growth of the pilus organelles. The usher complex appears to be similar to complexes formed by members of the PulD/pIV family of OM proteins, and thus these two protein families, previously thought to be unrelated, may share structural and functional homologies.
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Mar 17 1998|