Going outside the TonB box: Identification of novel FepA-TonB interactions in vivo

Michael G. Gresock, Kathleen Postle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In Gram-negative bacteria, the cytoplasmic membrane protein TonB transmits energy derived from proton motive force to energize transport of important nutrients through TonB-dependent transporters in the outer membrane. Each transporter consists of a beta barrel domain and a lumen-occluding cork domain containing an essential sequence called the TonB box. To date, the only identified site of transporter-TonB interaction is between the TonB box and residues ~158 to 162 of TonB. While the mechanism of ligand transport is a mystery, a current model based on site-directed spin labeling and molecular dynamics simulations is that, following ligand binding, the otherwise-sequestered TonB box extends into the periplasm for recognition by TonB, which mediates transport by pulling or twisting the cork. In this study, we tested that hypothesis with the outer membrane transporter FepA using in vivo photo-cross-linking to explore interactions of its TonB box and determine whether additional FepA-TonB interaction sites exist. We found numerous specific sites of FepA interaction with TonB on the periplasmic face of the FepA cork in addition to the TonB box. Two residues, T32 and A33, might constitute a ligandsensitive conformational switch. The facts that some interactions were enhanced in the absence of ligand and that other interactions did not require the TonB box argued against the current model and suggested that the transport process is more complex than originally conceived, with subtleties that might provide a mechanism for discrimination among ligand-loaded transporters. These results constitute the first study on the dynamics of TonB-gated transporter interaction with TonB in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00649-16
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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