Substrate-specific binding of hook-associated proteins by FlgN and FliT, putative chaperones for flagellum assembly


Colin Hughes. E-mail; Tel./Fax (+44) 1223 333732.


During flagellum assembly by motile enterobacteria, flagellar axial proteins destined for polymerization into the cell surface structure are thought to be exported through the 25–30 Å flagellum central channel as partially unfolded monomers. How are premature folding and oligomerization in the cytosol prevented? We have shown previously using hyperflagellated Proteus mirabilis and a motile but non-swarming flgN transposon mutant that the apparently cytosolic 16.5 kDa flagellar protein FlgN facilitates efficient flagellum filament assembly. Here, we investigate further whether FlgN, predicted to contain a C-terminal amphipathic helix typical of type III export chaperones, acts as a chaperone for axial proteins. Incubation of soluble radiolabelled FlgN from Salmonella typhimurium with nitrocellulose-immobilized cell lysates of wild-type S. typhimurium and a non-flagellate class 1 flhDC mutant indicated that FlgN binds to flagellar proteins. Identical affinity blot analysis of culture supernatants from the wild-type and flhDC, flgI, flgK, flgL, fliC or fliD flagellar mutants showed that FlgN binds to the flagellar hook-associated proteins (HAPs) FlgK and FlgL. This was confirmed by blotting artificially expressed individual HAPs in Escherichia coli. Analysis of axial proteins secreted into the culture medium by the original P. mirabilis flgN mutant demonstrated that export of FlgK and FlgL was specifically reduced, with concomitant increased release of unpolymerized flagellin (FliC), the immediately distal component of the flagellum. These data suggest that FlgN functions as an export chaperone for FlgK and FlgL. Parallel experiments showed that FliT, a similarly small (14 kDa), potentially helical flagellar protein, binds specifically to the flagellar filament cap protein, FliD (HAP2), indicating that it too might be an export chaperone. Flagellar axial proteins all contain amphipathic helices at their termini. Removal of the HAP C-terminal helical domains abolished binding by FlgN and FliT in each case, and polypeptides comprising each of the HAP C-termini were specifically bound by FlgN and FliT. We suggest that FlgN and FliT are substrate-specific flagellar chaperones that prevent oligomerization of the HAPs by binding to their helical domains before export.