• twin arginine;
  • protein transport;
  • chloroplast;
  • TatB;
  • sec-independent

Assembly of the components of the thylakoid ΔpH-dependent/Tat protein transport machinery was analyzed in vitro. Upon incubation with intact chloroplasts, precursors to all three components, Hcf106, cpTatC and Tha4, were imported into the organelle and assembled into characteristic endogenous complexes. In particular, all of the imported cpTatC and approximately two-thirds of the imported Hcf106 functionally assembled into 700 kDa complexes capable of binding Tat pathway precursor proteins. The amounts assembled into thylakoids by this procedure were moderate. However, physiological quantities of mature forms of Tha4 and Hcf106 were integrated into isolated thylakoids and a significant percentage of the Hcf106 so integrated was assembled into the 700 kDa complex. Interestingly, a mutant form of Hcf106 in which an invariant transmembrane glutamate was changed to glutamine integrated into the membrane but did not assemble into the receptor complex. Analysis of energy and known pathway component requirements indicated that Hcf106 and Tha4 integrate by an unassisted or ‘spontaneous’ mechanism. The functionality of in vitro integrated Tha4 was verified by its ability to restore transport to thylakoid membranes from the maize tha4 mutant, which lacks the Tha4 protein. Development of this functional in vitro assembly assay will facilitate structure–function studies of the thylakoid Tat pathway translocation machinery.