The outer membranes (OMs) of gram-negative bacteria have an asymmetric lipid distribution with lipopolysaccharides at the outer leaflet and phospholipids (PLs) at the inner leaflet. This lipid arrangement is essential for the barrier function of the OM and for the viability of most gram-negative bacteria. Cells with OM assembly defects or cells exposed to harsh chemical treatments accumulate PLs in the outer leaflet of the OM and this disrupts lipopolysaccharide organization and increases sensitivity to small toxic molecules. We have identified an ABC transport system in Escherichia coli with predicted import function that serves to prevent PL accumulation in the outer leaflet of the OM. This highly conserved pathway, which we have termed the Mla pathway for its role in preserving OM lipid asymmetry, is composed of at least 6 proteins and contains at least 1 component in each cellular compartment. We propose that the Mla pathway constitutes a bacterial intermembrane PL trafficking system.
Protein secretion occurs via translocation by the evolutionarily conserved Sec complex. LacZ hybrid proteins have long been used to study translocation in Escherichia coli. Some LacZ hybrids were thought to block secretion by physically jamming the Sec complex, leading to cell death. We found that jammed Sec complexes caused the degradation of essential translocator components by the protease FtsH. Increasing the amounts or the stability of the membrane protein YccA, a known inhibitor of FtsH, counteracted this destruction. Antibiotics that inhibit translation elongation also jammed the translocator and caused the degradation of translocator components, which may contribute to their effectiveness. Intriguingly, YccA is a functional homolog of the proto-oncogene product Bax Inhibitor-1, which may share a similar mechanism of action in regulating apoptosis upon prolonged secretion stress.
In Escherichia coli, the adaptor protein SprE (RssB) controls the stability of the alternate sigma factor RpoS (sigma(38) and sigma(S)). When nutrients are abundant, SprE binds RpoS and delivers it to ClpXP for degradation, but when carbon sources are depleted, this process is inhibited. It also has been noted that overproduction of SprE is toxic. Here we show that null mutations in pcnB, encoding poly(A) polymerase I (PAP I), and in hfq, encoding the RNA chaperone Hfq, suppress this toxicity. Since PAP I, in conjunction with Hfq, is responsible for targeting RNAs, including mRNAs, for degradation by adding poly(A) tails onto their 3' ends, these data indicate that SprE helps modulate the polyadenylation pathway in E. coli. Indeed, in exponentially growing cells, sprE deletion mutants exhibit significantly reduced levels of polyadenylation and increased stability of specific mRNAs, similar to what is observed in a PAP I-deficient strain. In stationary phase, we show that SprE changes the intracellular localization of PAP I. Taken together, we propose that SprE plays a multifunctional role in controlling the transcriptome, regulating what is made via its effects on RpoS, and modulating what is degraded via its effects on polyadenylation and turnover of specific mRNAs.
Intracellular lipid transport is poorly understood. Genetic studies to identify lipid-transport factors are complicated by the essentiality of many lipids, whereas biochemical and cell biology approaches aiming to determine localization and mechanisms of lipid transport are often challenged by the lack of adequate technology. Here, we review the epic history of how different approaches, technological advances and ingenuity contributed to the recent discovery of a multi-protein pathway that transports lipopolysaccharide across the envelope of Gram-negative bacteria.
The outer membrane (OM) of most Gram-negative bacteria contains lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the outer leaflet. LPS, or endotoxin, is a molecule of important biological activities. In the host, LPS elicits a potent immune response, while in the bacterium, it plays a crucial role by establishing a barrier to limit entry of hydrophobic molecules. Before LPS is assembled at the OM, it must be synthesized at the inner membrane (IM) and transported across the aqueous periplasmic compartment. Much is known about the biosynthesis of LPS but, until recently, little was known about its transport and assembly. We applied a reductionist bioinformatic approach that takes advantage of the small size of the proteome of the Gram-negative endosymbiont Blochmannia floridanus to search for novel factors involved in OM biogenesis. This led to the discovery of two essential Escherichia coli IM proteins of unknown function, YjgP and YjgQ, which are required for the transport of LPS to the cell surface. We propose that these two proteins, which we have renamed LptF and LptG, respectively, are the missing transmembrane components of the ABC transporter that, together with LptB, functions to extract LPS from the IM en route to the OM.
Integral beta-barrel proteins (OMPs) are a major class of outer membrane proteins in Gram-negative bacteria. In Escherichia coli, these proteins are synthesized in the cytoplasm, translocated across the inner membrane via the Sec machinery, and assembled in the outer membrane through an unknown mechanism that requires the outer membrane YaeT complex and the periplasmic chaperones SurA, DegP, and Skp. Here, we have established the relationship between these three chaperones providing insight into the mechanism of OMP biogenesis using depletion analysis. Depletion of SurA alone results in a marked decrease in outer membrane density, while the loss of DegP and Skp has no effect on outer membrane composition. Furthermore, we demonstrate that SurA and YaeT interact directly in vivo. Based on these results, we suggest that SurA is the primary chaperone responsible for the periplasmic transit of the bulk mass of OMPs to the YaeT complex. The role of Skp and DegP is amplified in the absence of SurA. Evidence presented suggests that DegP/Skp function to rescue OMPs that fall off the SurA pathway. The seemingly redundant periplasmic chaperones do function in parallel, but the relative importance of the primary function of each pathway depends on whether or not cells are under stress.
Outer membrane beta-barrel proteins in gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, must be translocated from their site of synthesis in the cytoplasm to the periplasm and finally delivered to the outer membrane. At least a dozen proteins located in the cytoplasm, the periplasm, and both the inner and outer membranes are required to catalyze this complex assembly process. At normal growth temperatures and conditions the transport and assembly processes are so fast that assembly intermediates cannot be detected. Using cells grown at a low temperature to slow the assembly process and pulse-chase analysis with immunodetection methods, we followed newly synthesized LamB molecules during their transit through the cell envelope. The quality and reproducibility of the data allowed us to calculate rate constants for three different subassembly reactions. This kinetic analysis revealed that secB and secD mutants exhibit nearly identical defects in precursor translocation from the cytoplasm. However, subsequent subassembly reaction rates provided no clear evidence for an additional role for SecD in LamB assembly. Moreover, we found that surA mutants are qualitatively indistinguishable from yfgL mutants, suggesting that the products of both of these genes share a common function in the assembly process, most likely the delivery of LamB to the YaeT assembly complex in the outer membrane.
A major role of the outer membrane (OM) of Gram-negative bacteria is to provide a protective permeability barrier for the cell, and proper maintenance of the OM is required for cellular viability. OM biogenesis requires the coordinated assembly of constituent lipids and proteins via dedicated OM assembly machineries. We have previously shown that, in Escherichia coli, the multicomponent YaeT complex is responsible for the assembly of OM beta-barrel proteins (OMPs). This complex contains the OMP YaeT and three OM lipoproteins. Here, we report another component of the YaeT complex, the OM lipoprotein small protein A (SmpA). Strains carrying loss-of-function mutations in smpA are viable but exhibit defects in OMP assembly. Biochemical experiments show that SmpA is involved in maintaining complex stability. Taken together, these experiments establish an important role for SmpA in both the structure and function of the YaeT complex.
When envelope biogenesis is compromised or damage to envelope components occurs, bacteria trigger signaling cascades, which lead to the production of proteins that combat such extracytoplasmic stresses. In Escherichia coli, there are three pathways known to deal with envelope stresses: the Bae, Cpx, and sigma(E) responses. Although the effectors of the Bae and Cpx responses are not essential in E. coli, the effector of the sigma(E) response, the sigma factor RpoE (sigma(E)), is essential for viability. However, mutations that suppress the lethality of an rpoE-null allele can be easily obtained, and here we describe how we have isolated at least four classes of these suppressors. We present the first description of one such suppressor class, loss-of-function mutations in ydcQ, a gene encoding a putative DNA-binding protein. In wild-type rpoE(+) strains, ydcQ mutants have two distinct phenotypes: extracytoplasmic stress responses are significantly downregulated, and the production of outer membrane vesicles is severely reduced. We present a model in which sigma(E) is not essential per se but, rather, we propose that rpoE mutant cells die, possibly because they overreact to the absence of this sigma factor by triggering a cell death signal.
The outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli serves as a protective barrier that controls the influx and efflux of solutes. This allows the bacteria to inhabit several different, and often hostile, environments. The assembly of the E. coli outer membrane has been difficult to study using traditional genetic and biochemical methods, and how all its components reach the outer membrane after being synthesized in the cytoplasm and cytoplasmic membrane, how they are assembled in an environment that is devoid of an obvious energy source, and how assembly proceeds without disrupting the integrity of this essential cellular structure are all fundamental questions that remain unanswered. Here, we review the new approaches that have led to the recent discovery of components of the machinery involved in the biogenesis of this distinctive cellular organelle.
Regulation of the Escherichia coli stationary-phase sigma factor RpoS is complex and occurs at multiple levels in response to different environmental stresses. One protein that reduces RpoS levels is the transcription factor LrhA, a global regulator of flagellar synthesis. Here we clarify the mechanism of this repression and provide insight into the signaling pathways that feed into this regulation. We show that LrhA represses RpoS at the level of translation in a manner that is dependent on the small RNA (sRNA) chaperone Hfq. Although LrhA also represses the transcription of the sRNA RprA, its regulation of RpoS mainly occurs independently of RprA. To better understand the physiological signals affecting this pathway, a transposon mutagenesis screen was carried out to find factors affecting LrhA activity levels. The RcsCDB phosphorelay system, a cell envelope stress-sensing pathway, was found to repress lrhA synthesis. In addition, mutations in the gene encoding the DNA motor protein FtsK induce lrhA synthesis, which may explain why such strains fail to accumulate RpoS in stationary phase.
A key function of biological membranes is to exclude toxic small molecules while allowing influx of nutrients. Cells achieve this by controlling the composition of different types of proteins and lipids within the membrane by a process called membrane biogenesis. We have recently proposed a strategy to identify genes involved in membrane biogenesis in Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli by selecting for suppressors of mutations that render the outer membrane (OM) leaky. We predicted that different small molecules could select different suppressors because mutations that answer a specific selection will correct the membrane permeability defect to different degrees depending on the structure of the small molecule. We have tested this hypothesis by selecting for resistance to bile acids in an imp4213 strain, which contains a compromised OM owing to a defect in lipopolysaccharide biogenesis. We report here that a suppressor mutation in yaeT , which specifies an essential protein involved in the assembly of beta-barrel proteins in the OM, confers resistance to a specific subset of bile acids in the imp4213 strain. YaeT is conserved from bacteria to man because it is involved in OM biogenesis in mitochondria and chloroplasts. These results demonstrate that structurally different toxic small molecules select different, and highly specific, genetic solutions for correcting membrane-permeability defects. The remarkable chemical specificity of the imp4213 suppressors provides insights into the molecular nature of the OM permeability barrier.
Recent advances in the study of bacterial membranes have led to the identification of a multicomponent YaeT complex in the outer membrane (OM) of Gram-negative bacteria that is involved in the targeting and folding of beta-barrel outer membrane proteins (OMPs). In Escherichia coli, this complex consists of an essential OMP, YaeT, and three OM lipoproteins, YfgL, NlpB and YfiO. YfiO is the only essential lipoprotein component of the complex. We show that this lipoprotein is required for the proper assembly and/or targeting of OMPs to the OM but not the assembly of lipopolysaccharides (LPS). Depletion of YfiO causes similar phenotypes as does the depletion of YaeT, and we conclude that YfiO plays a critical role in YaeT-mediated OMP folding. We demonstrate that YfiO and YfgL directly interact with YaeT in vitro, while NlpB interacts directly with YfiO. Genetic analysis verifies the importance of YfiO and its interactions with NlpB in maintaining the functional integrity of the YaeT complex.
The assembly of the Escherichia coli outer membrane (OM) is poorly understood. Although insight into fundamental cellular processes is often obtained from studying mutants, OM-defective mutants have not been very informative because they generally have nonspecific permeability defects. Here we show that toxic small molecules can be used in selections employing strains with permeability defects to create particular chemical conditions that demand specific suppressor mutations. Suppressor phenotypes are correlated with the physical properties of the small molecules, but the mutations are not in their target genes. Instead, mutations allow survival by partially restoring membrane impermeability. Using "chemical conditionality," we identified mutations in yfgL, and, here and in the accompanying paper by Wu et al. published in this issue of Cell (Wu et al., 2005), we show that YfgL is part of a multiprotein complex involved in the assembly of OM beta barrel proteins. We posit that panels of toxic small molecules will be useful for generating chemical conditionalities that enable identification of genes required for organelle assembly in other organisms.
Gram-negative bacteria have an outer membrane (OM) that functions as a barrier to protect the cell from toxic compounds such as antibiotics and detergents. The OM is a highly asymmetric bilayer composed of phospholipids, glycolipids, and proteins. Assembly of this essential organelle occurs outside the cytoplasm in an environment that lacks obvious energy sources such as ATP, and the mechanisms involved are poorly understood. We describe the identification of a multiprotein complex required for the assembly of proteins in the OM of Escherichia coli. We also demonstrate genetic interactions between genes encoding components of this protein assembly complex and imp, which encodes a protein involved in the assembly of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) in the OM. These genetic interactions suggest a role for YfgL, one of the lipoprotein components of the protein assembly complex, in a homeostatic control mechanism that coordinates the overall OM assembly process.
The Cpx and sigmaE signaling systems monitor the cell envelope in Escherichia coli. When induced, each system triggers a signaling cascade that leads to the upregulation of factors needed to combat envelope damage. Although each system is distinct and can be uniquely induced by certain cues, they also share striking similarities. In this review, we discuss the recent progress in our understanding of the Cpx and sigmaE systems and compare how both function to maintain the integrity of the cell envelope.
Levels of RpoS increase upon glucose starvation in Escherichia coli, which leads to the transcription of genes whose products combat a variety of stresses. RpoS stability is a key level of control in this process, as SprE (RssB)-mediated degradation is inhibited under glucose starvation. Starvation for ammonia or phosphate also results in increased stress resistance and induction of RpoS-dependent genes. However, we demonstrate that RpoS levels following ammonia starvation are only slightly increased compared to growing cells and are 10-fold below the levels observed under glucose or phosphate limitation. This difference is largely due to regulated proteolysis of RpoS, as its stability in ammonia-starved cells is intermediate between that in logarithmic-phase cells and glucose-starved cells. Use of an rpoS construct that is devoid of the gene's native transcriptional and translational control regions reveals that stability differences are sufficient to explain the different levels of RpoS observed in logarithmic phase, ammonia starvation, and glucose starvation. Under phosphate starvation, however, rpoS translation is increased. The cellular response to nutrient limitation is much more complex than previously appreciated, as there is not simply one response that is activated by starvation for any essential nutrient. Our data support the hypothesis that SprE activity is the key level at which ammonia and glucose starvation signals are transmitted to RpoS, and they suggest that carbon source and/or energy limitation are necessary for full inactivation of the SprE pathway.
In Escherichia coli, the CpxR/A two-component system senses various types of extracytoplasmic stresses and responds by activating the expression of genes encoding periplasmic protein folding and trafficking factors that clear such stresses to ensure the organism's survival. The cpxP gene encodes a small, stress-combative periplasmic protein and is the most strongly induced member of the Cpx regulon. We demonstrate that the Cpx stress response suppresses the toxicity associated with two misfolded proteins derived from the P pilus of uropathogenic E. coli and that mutations in either cpxP or the gene for the periplasmic protease DegP prevent suppression by preventing the degradation of these proteins. Strikingly, the presence of a periplasmic misfolded protein substrate significantly enhances the proteolysis of CpxP by DegP. Our data suggest that CpxP functions as a periplasmic adaptor protein that is required for the effective proteolysis of a subset of misfolded substrates by the DegP protease.
Studies of the mechanisms that Gram-negative bacteria use to sense and respond to stress have led to a greater understanding of protein folding in both cytoplasmic and extracytoplasmic locations. In response to stressful conditions, bacteria induce a variety of stress response systems, examples of which are the sigma(E) and Cpx systems in Escherichia coli. Induction of these stress response systems results in upregulation of several gene targets that have been shown to be important for protein folding under normal conditions. Here we review the identification of stress response systems and their corresponding gene targets in E. coli. In addition, we discuss the apparent redundancy of the folding factors in the periplasm, and we consider the potential importance of the functional overlap that exists.