Evidence that F-plasmid proteins TraV, TraK and TraB assemble into an envelope-spanning structure in Escherichia coli



We have examined the role of the F-plasmid TraV outer membrane lipoprotein in the assembly of F-pili. Yeast two-hybrid analysis with a traV bait repeatedly identified traK, which is predicted to encode a periplasmic protein, among positive prey plasmids. A traK bait in turn identified traV and traB, which is predicted to encode an inner membrane protein. A traB bait exclusively identified traK preys. Several additional observations support the hypothesis that TraV, TraK and TraB form a complex in Escherichia coli that spans the cell envelope from the outer membrane (TraV) through the periplasm (TraK) to the inner membrane (TraB). First, two-hybrid analyses indicated that TraV and TraB bind to different TraK segments, as required if TraK bridges a ternary complex. Secondly, all three proteins fractionated with the E. coli outer membrane in tra+ cells. In contrast, TraB fractionated with the inner membrane in traV or traK mutant cells, and TraK appeared in the osmotic shock fluid from the traV mutant. These results are consistent with a TraV–TraK–TraB complex anchored to the outer membrane via the TraV lipoprotein. Further, in traK mutant cells, TraV failed to accumulate to a detectable level, and the TraB level was significantly reduced, suggesting that TraV and TraB must interact with TraK for either protein to accumulate to its normal level. Both TraK and TraV accumulated in traB2[Am] cells; however, the TraB2 amber fragment could be detected by Western blot, and sequence analysis indicated that the fragment retained the TraK-binding domain suggested by yeast two-hybrid analysis. We propose that TraV is the outer membrane anchor for a trans-envelope, Tra protein structure required for the assembly of F-pili and possibly for other events of conjugal DNA transfer.