Interaction between the F plasmid TraA (F-pilin) and TraQ proteins


Philip M. Silverman. E-mail; Tel. (+1) 405 271 7663; Fax (+1) 405 271 3153.


Elaboration of conjugative (F) pili by F+ strains of Escherichia coli requires the activities of over a dozen F-encoded DNA transfer (Tra) proteins. The organization and functions of these proteins are largely unknown. Using the yeast two-hybrid assay, we have begun to analyse binary interactions among the Tra proteins required for F-pilus formation. We focus here on interactions involving F-pilin, the only known F-pilus subunit. Using a library of F tra DNA fragments that contained all the F genes required for F pilus formation in a yeast GAL4 activation domain vector (pACTII), we transformed yeast containing a plasmid (pAS1CYH2traA) encoding a GAL4 DNA-binding domain–F-pilin fusion. Doubly transformed cells were screened for GAL4-dependent gene expression. This screen repeatedly identified only a single Tra protein, TraQ, previously identified as a likely F-pilin chaperone. The F-pilin–TraQ interaction appeared to be specific, as no transcriptional activation was detected in yeast transformants containing pACTIItraQ plasmids and the Salmonella typhi pED208 traA gene cloned in pAS1CYH2. Two traQ segments isolated in the screen against F-pilin were tested for complementation of a traQ null allele in E. coli. One, lacking the first 11 (of 94) TraQ amino acids, restored DNA donor activity, donor-specific bacteriophage sensitivity and membrane F-pilin accumulation to wild-type levels. The second, lacking the first 21 amino acids, was much less effective in these assays. Both TraQ polypeptides accumulated in E. coli as transmembrane proteins. The longer, biologically active segment was fused to the GAL4 DNA-binding domain gene of pAS1CYH2 and used to screen the tra fragment library. The only positives from this screen identified traA segments. The fusion sites between the traA and GAL4 segments identified the hydrophobic, C-terminal domain IV of F-pilin as sufficient for the interaction. As TraQ is the only Tra protein required for the accumulation of inner membrane F-pilin, the interaction probably reflects a specific, chaperone-like function for TraQ in E. coli. Attempts to isolate an F-pilin–TraQ complex from E. coli were unsuccessful, suggesting that the interaction between the two is normally transient, as expected from previous studies of the kinetics of TraA membrane insertion and processing to F-pilin.