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Dynamic action of the Sec machinery during initiation, protein translocation and termination revealed by single molecule fluorescence

By Tomas Fessl, Daniel Watkins, Peter Oatley, William J. Allen, Robin A. Corey, Jim E. Horne, Steve A. Baldwin, Sheena E. Radford, Ian Collinson, Roman Tuma

Posted 17 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/248310 (published DOI: 10.7554/elife.35112)

Protein translocation across cell membranes is a ubiquitous process required for protein secretion and membrane protein insertion. This is mediated, for the majority of proteins, by the highly conserved Sec machinery. The bacterial translocon - SecYMKEG - resides in the plasma membrane, where translocation is driven through rounds of ATP hydrolysis by the cytoplasmic SecA ATPase, and the proton motive force (PMF). We have used single molecule Foerster resonance energy transfer (FRET) alongside a combination of confocal and total internal reflection microscopy to gain access to SecY pore dynamics and translocation kinetics on timescales spanning milliseconds to minutes. This allows us to dissect and characterise the translocation process in unprecedented detail. We show that SecA, signal sequence, pre-protein and ATP hydrolysis each have important and specific roles in unlocking and opening the Sec channel, priming it for transport. After channel opening, translocation proceeds in two phases: an initiation phase independent of substrate length, and a length-dependent transport phase with an intrinsic translocation rate of ~ 40 amino acids per second for the model pre-protein substrate proOmpA. The initiation and translocation phases are both coupled to ATP hydrolysis while termination is ATP-independent. Distributions of translocation rates reflect the stochastic nature of the translocation process and are consistent with the recently proposed Brownian ratchet model [Allen et al. doi: 10.7554/eLife.15598]. The results allow us unparalleled access to the kinetics of the complex reaction and provide a framework for understanding the molecular mechanism of protein secretion.

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