Disulphide trapping of an in vivo energy-dependent conformation of Escheriohia coli TonB protein

Joydeep Ghosh, Kathleen Postle

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37 Scopus citations


In Escherichia coli, the TonB system transduces the protonmotive force (pmf) of the cytoplasmic membrane to support a variety of transport events across the outer membrane. Cytoplasmic membrane proteins ExbB and ExbD appear to harvest pmf and transduce it to TonB. Experimental evidence suggests that TonB shuttles to the outer membrane, apparently to deliver conformationally stored potential energy to outer membrane transporters. In the most recent model, discharged TonB is then recycled to the cytoplasmic membrane to be re-energized by the energy coupling proteins, ExbB/D. It has been suggested that the carboxy-terminal 75 amino acids of active TonB could be represented by the rigid, strand-exchanged, dimeric crystal structure of the corresponding fragment. In contrast, recent genetic studies of alanine substitutions have suggested instead that in vivo the carboxy-terminus of intact TonB is dynamic and flexible. The biochemical studies presented here confirm and extend those results by demonstrating that individual cys substitution at aromatic residues in one monomeric subunit can form spontaneous dimers in vivo with the identical residue in the other monomeric subunit. Two energized TonBs appear to form a single cluster of 8-10 aromatic amino acids, including those found at opposite ends of the crystal structure. The aromatic cluster requires both the amino-terminal energy coupling domain of TonB, and ExbB/D (and cross-talk analogues TolQ/R) for in vivo formation. The large aromatic cluster is detected in cytoplasmic membrane-, but not outer membrane-associated TonB. Consistent with those observations, the aromatic cluster can form in the first half of the energy transduction cycle, before release of conformationally stored potential energy to ligand-loaded outer membrane transporters. The model that emerges is one in which, after input of pmf mediated through ExbB/D and the TonB transmembrane domain, the TonB carboxy-terminus can form a meta-stable high-energy conformation that is not represented by the crystal structure of the carboxy-terminus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)276-288
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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