The TatA component of the twin-arginine translocation system locally weakens the cytoplasmic membrane of Escherichia coli upon protein substrate binding

authored by
Bo Hou, Eyleen S. Heidrich, Denise Mehner-Breitfeld, Thomas Brüser

The twin-arginine translocation (Tat) system that comprises the TatA, TatB, and TatC components transports folded proteins across energized membranes of prokaryotes and plant plastids. It is not known, however, how the transport of this protein cargo is achieved. Favored models suggest that the TatA component supports transport by weakening the membrane upon full translocon assembly. Using Escherichia coli as a model organism, we now demonstrate in vivo that the N terminus of TatA can indeed destabilize the membrane, resulting in a lowered membrane energization in growing cells. We found that in full-length TatA, this effect is counterbalanced by its amphipathic helix. Consistent with these observations, the TatA N terminus induced proton leakage in vitro, indicating membrane destabilization. Fluorescence quenching data revealed that substrate binding causes the TatA hinge region and the N-terminal part of the TatA amphipathic helix to move toward the membrane surface. In the presence of TatBC, substrate binding also reduced the exposure of a specific region in the amphipathic helix, indicating a participation of TatBC. Of note, the substrate-induced reorientation of the TatA amphipathic helix correlated with detectable membrane weakening. We therefore propose a two-state model in which membrane-destabilizing effects of the short TatA membrane anchor are compensated by the membrane-immersed N-terminal part of the amphipathic helix in a resting state. We conclude that substrate binding to TatABC complexes switches the position of the amphipathic helix, which locally weakens the membrane on demand to allow substrate translocation across the membrane.

Institute of Microbiology
Journal of Biological Chemistry
No. of pages
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology
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