Escherichia coli TonB protein is exported from the cytoplasm without proteolytic cleavage of its amino terminus. Academic Article uri icon


  • The requirement for TonB protein in a variety of membrane-related processes suggests that TonB is an envelope protein. Consistent with this suggestion, the deduced TonB amino acid sequence (Postle, K., and Good, R. F., (1983) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 80, 5235-5239) contains an amino-terminal region similar to leader (signal) sequences of exported proteins, although its charged region falls outside the rules which characterize these sequences (von Heijne, G. (1985) J. Mol. Biol. 184, 99-105). The deduced TonB amino acid sequence contains three potential methionine start codons in the first six codons of the open reading frame. In this report, we show, by Edman degradation of [35S]methionine-labeled protein, that TonB protein synthesized in vitro initiates at the third of these methionine codons. A method for detecting TonB synthesized in vivo has been developed that involves expression of TonB from the lambda PL promoter and pulse labeling with [35S]methionine. TonB synthesized in vivo has a chemical half-life of 10 min at 42 degrees C. It is exported from the cytoplasm, as determined by proteinase K accessibility experiments. It fractionates with spheroplasts under conditions where maltose-binding protein fractionates with the periplasm. It has the same mobility in three different polyacrylamide gel systems as TonB synthesized in vitro. We concluded that the amino terminus of TonB is uncleaved following its export from the cytoplasm and that TonB is a membrane-associated protein. Characterization of a tonB-phoA gene fusion suggests that the amino-terminal 41 amino acids of TonB are sufficient to promote export of the fusion protein and presumably TonB as well. Models for TonB orientation within the cell envelope are presented.

published proceedings

  • J Biol Chem

author list (cited authors)

  • Postle, K., & Skare, J. T.

citation count

  • 109

complete list of authors

  • Postle, K||Skare, JT

publication date

  • January 1988