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Title: Characterisation of the structure and function of the Salmonella flagellar export gate protein, FlhB
Author: Bergen, Paul Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 6424 5437
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Flagella, the helical propellers that extend from the bacterial cell surface, illustrate how complex nanomachines assemble outside the cell. The sequential construction of the flagellar rod, hook, and filament requires export of thousands of structural subunits across the cell membrane and this is achieved by a specialised flagellar Type III Secretion System (fT3SS) located at the base of each flagellum. The fT3SS imposes a crude ordering of subunits, with filament subunits only exported once the rod and hook are complete. This “export specificity switch” is controlled by the FlhB component of the fT3SS export gate in response to a signal from the exported molecular ruler FliK, which monitors the length of the growing hook. This study seeks to clarify how rod and hook subunits interact with FlhB, and how FlhB switches export specificity. Rod and hook subunits possess a conserved gate recognition motif (GRM; Fxxxφ, with φ being any hydrophobic residue) that is proposed to bind a surface-exposed hydrophobic patch on the FlhB cytosolic domain. Mutation of the GRM phenylalanine and the final hydrophobic residue resulted in impaired subunit export and decreased cell motility. Isothermal titration calorimetry was performed to assess whether subunit export order is imposed at FlhB. These experiments showed that rod and hook subunits bind to FlhB with micromolar dissociation constants (5-45 μM), suggesting transient interactions. There was no clear correlation between subunit affinity for FlhB and the order of subunit assembly in the nascent flagellum. Solution-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy supported prior data showing that rod and hook subunits interact with FlhB’s surface-exposed hydrophobic patch. NMR also indicated that residues away from the patch undergo a conformational change on subunit binding. FlhB autocleaves rapidly in its cytosolic domain, and the resulting polypeptides (FlhBCN and FlhBCC) are held together by non-covalent interactions between b-strands that encompass the autocleavage site. The autocleavage event is a prerequisite for the export specificity switch, but its function is unclear. Analysis of the cellular localization of FlhBCN and FlhBCC revealed that FlhBCC dissociated from the membrane export machinery, but only in the presence of FliK. Biochemical and biophysical studies of FlhB variants that undergo export specificity switching in the absence of FliK showed that these FlhB “autonomous switchers” were less stable than wildtype FlhB and their FlhBCC domain could dissociate from the export machinery in the absence of FliK. The results suggest that the export specificity switch involves a FliK-dependent loss of FlhBCC from the export machinery, eliminating the binding site for rod and hook subunits.
Supervisor: Fraser, Gillian Sponsor: Wellcome Trust ; BBSRC ; Gates Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: type III secretion systems ; T3SS ; Salmonella ; Flagella ; Bacterial Motility ; FlhB ; fT3SS ; Ordered protein export ; SctU