Interactions among components of the Salmonella flagellar export apparatus and its substrates



We have examined the cytoplasmic components (FliH, FliI and FliJ) of the type III flagellar protein export apparatus, plus the cytoplasmic domains (FlhAC and FlhBC) of two of its six membrane components. FliH, FlhAC and FliJ, when overproduced, caused inhibition of motility of wild-type cells and inhibition of the export of substrates such as the hook protein FlgE. Co-overproduction of FliH and FliI substantially relieved the inhibition caused by FliH, suggesting that it is excess free FliH that is inhibitory and that FliH and FliI form a complex. We purified His-FLAG-tagged versions of: (i) export components FliH, FliI, FliJ, FlhAC and FlhBC; (ii) rod/hook-type export substrates FlgB (rod protein), FlgE (hook protein), FlgD (hook capping protein) and FliE (basal body protein); and (iii) filament-type export substrates FlgK and FlgL (hook–filament junction proteins) and FliC (flagellin). We tested for protein–protein interactions by affinity blotting. In many cases, a given protein interacted with more than one other component, indicating that there are likely to be multiple dynamic interactions or interactions that involve more than two components. Interactions of FlhBC with rod/hook-type substrates were strong, whereas those with filament-type substrates were very weak; this may reflect the role of FlhB in substrate specificity switching. We propose a model for the flagellar export apparatus in which FlhA and FlhB and the other four integral membrane proteins of the apparatus form a complex at the base of the flagellar motor. A soluble complex of at least three proteins (FliH, FliI and FliJ) bind the protein to be exported and then interact with the complex at the motor to deliver the protein, which is then exported in an ATP-dependent process mediated by FliI.