Deciphering the Structural Intricacy in Virulence Effectors for Proton-motive Force Mediated Unfolding in Type-III Protein Secretion

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Virulence effectors, Molecular evolution, Protein folding, Geometrical frustrations, Protein stability, Function trade-off

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Given that the protein unfolding requisite for type-III secretion system (T3SS)-mediated secretion is an energetically unfavorable process, the question of how do pathogenic bacteria unfold and secrete hundreds of toxic proteins in seconds remain largely unknown. In this study, a systematic effort combining experimental and computational approaches has been employed to get some mechanistic insights on the unfolding of effectors in T3SS secretion. The in-depth analysis of pH-dependent folding and stability of a T3SS effector ExoY revealed that proton-concentration gradient (~pH 5.8–6.0) generated by proton-motive force (PMF) had significantly affected folding and structural stability of this protein without significant loss of the free energy of unfolding. Importantly, the lower energetic cost associated with the global unfolding of ExoY was mainly due to its inherent stereo-chemical frustrations embedded within its native-like structure as observed from its core structural analysis. These observations suggest that the cooperation between the evolved structural features of ExoY and pH-mediated unfolding is crucial for PMF-mediated T3SS secretion. From a comprehensive computational analysis of 371 T3SS effectors it was concluded that many of these effectors belong to the category of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) and have similar conserved structural archetypes to facilitate early-stage unfolding process as observed in ExoY. We had also provided details of folding, stability, and molecular evolution in T3SS effectors and established the role of evolved structural archetypes in early-stage unfolding events of this effector for maintaining balance in secretion and function trade-off.

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International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, v. 159, p. 18-33