Hydrophobic mismatch effect is a key factor in protein transport on the Tat pathway
The twin-arginine translocation (Tat) pathway transports folded proteins across membranes in bacteria, thylakoid, plant mitochondria, and archaea. In most species, the active Tat machinery consists of three independent subunits, TatA, TatB and TatC. TatA and TatB from all bacterial species possess short transmembrane alpha-helices (TMHs), both of which are only fifteen residues long in E. coli. Such short TMHs cause a hydrophobic mismatch between Tat subunits and the membrane bilayer. Here, by
... odifying the length of the TMHs of E. coli TatA and TatB, we access the functional importance of the hydrophobic mismatch in the Tat transport mechanism. Surprisingly, both TatA and TatB with as few as 11 residues in their respective TMHs are still able to insert into the membrane bilayer, albeit with a decline in membrane integrity. Three different assays, both qualitative and quantitative, were conducted to evaluate the Tat activity of the TMH length mutants. Our experiments indicate that the TMHs of TatA and TatB appear to be evolutionarily tuned to 15 amino acids, with activity dropping off with any modification of this length. We believe our study supports a model of Tat transport utilizing localized toroidal pores that form when the membrane bilayer is thinned to a critical threshold. In this context, the 15-residue length of the TatA and TatB TMHs can be seen as a compromise between the need for some hydrophobic mismatch to allow the membrane to reversibly reach the threshold thinness required for toroidal pore formation, and the permanently destabilizing effect of placing even shorter helices into these energy-transducing membranes.