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Summary

The differences between archaeal and bacterial flagella are becoming more apparent as research on the archaeal structure progresses. One crucial difference is the presence of a leader peptide on archaeal preflagellins, which is removed from the flagellin prior to its incorporation into the flagellar filament. The enzyme responsible for the removal of the flagellin leader peptide was identified as FlaK. FlaK of Methanococcus voltae retains its preflagellin peptidase activity when expressed in Escherichia coli and used in an in vitro assay. Homologous recombination of an integration vector into the chromosomal copy of flaK resulted in a non-motile, non-flagellated phenotype. The flagellins of the mutant had larger molecular weights than their wild-type counterparts, as expected if they retained their 11- to 12-amino-acid leader peptide. Membranes of the flaK mutant were unable to process preflagellin in the in vitro assay. Site-directed mutagenesis demonstrated that two aspartic acid residues conserved with ones in type IV prepilin peptidases were necessary for proper recognition or processing of the preflagellin. As bacterial flagellins lack a leader peptide and a peptidase is not required for export and assembly, the requirement for FlaK further emphasizes the similarity archaeal flagella have with type IV pili, rather than with bacterial flagella.