The TonB system actively transports vital nutrients across the unenergized outer membranes of the majority of Gram-negative bacteria. In this system, integral membrane proteins ExbB, ExbD, and TonB work together to transduce the proton motive force (PMF) of the inner membrane to customized active transporters in the outer membrane by direct and cyclic binding of TonB to the transporters. A PMF-dependent TonB-ExbD interaction is prevented by 10-residue deletions within a periplasmic disordered domain of ExbD adjacent to the cytoplasmic membrane. Here, we explored the function of the ExbD disordered domain in more detail. In vivo photo-cross-linking through sequential pBpa substitutions in the ExbD disordered domain captured five different ExbD complexes, some of which had been previously detected using in vivo formaldehyde cross-linking, a technique that lacks the residue-specific information that can be achieved through photo-cross-linking: two ExbB-ExbD heterodimers (one of which had not been detected previously), previously detected ExbD homodimers, previously detected PMF-dependent ExbD-TonB heterodimers, and for the first time, a predicted, ExbD-TonB PMF-independent interaction. The fact that multiple complexes were captured by the same pBpa substitution indicated the dynamic nature of ExbD interactions as the energy transduction cycle proceeded in vivo. In this study, we also discovered that a conserved motif—V45, V47, L49, and P50—within the disordered domain was required for signal transduction to TonB and to the C-terminal domain of ExbD and was the source of motif essentiality. IMPORTANCE The TonB system is a virulence factor for Gram-negative pathogens. The mechanism by which cytoplasmic membrane proteins of the TonB system transduce an electrochemical gradient into mechanical energy is a long-standing mystery. TonB, ExbB, and ExbD primary amino acid sequences are characterized by regions of predicted intrinsic disorder, consistent with a proposed multiplicity of protein-protein contacts as TonB proceeds through an energy transduction cycle, a complex process that has yet to be recapitulated in vitro. This study validates a region of intrinsic disorder near the ExbD transmembrane domain and identifies an essential conserved motif embedded within it that transduces signals to distal regions of ExbD suggested to configure TonB for productive interaction with outer membrane transporters.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology