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Treponema pallidum, an obligate human pathogen, has an outer membrane (OM) whose physical properties, ultrastructure, and composition differ markedly from those of phylogenetically distant Gram-negative bacteria. We developed structural models for the outer membrane protein (OMP) repertoire (OMPeome) of T. pallidum Nichols using solved Gram-negative structures, computational tools, and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) of selected recombinant periplasmic domains. The T. pallidum “OMPeome” harbors two “stand-alone” proteins (BamA and LptD) involved in OM biogenesis and four paralogous families involved in the influx/efflux of small molecules: 8-stranded β-barrels, long-chain-fatty-acid transporters (FadLs), OM factors (OMFs) for efflux pumps, and T. pallidum repeat proteins (Tprs). BamA (TP0326), the central component of a β-barrel assembly machine (BAM)/translocation and assembly module (TAM) hybrid, possesses a highly flexible polypeptide-transport-associated (POTRA) 1-5 arm predicted to interact with TamB (TP0325). TP0515, an LptD ortholog, contains a novel, unstructured C-terminal domain that models inside the β-barrel. T. pallidum has four 8-stranded β-barrels, each containing positively charged extracellular loops that could contribute to pathogenesis. Three of five FadL-like orthologs have a novel α-helical, presumptively periplasmic C-terminal extension. SAXS and structural modeling further supported the bipartite membrane topology and tridomain architecture of full-length members of the Tpr family. T. pallidum’s two efflux pumps presumably extrude noxious small molecules via four coexpressed OMFs with variably charged tunnels. For BamA, LptD, and OMFs, we modeled the molecular machines that deliver their substrates into the OM or external milieu. The spirochete’s extended families of OM transporters collectively confer a broad capacity for nutrient uptake. The models also furnish a structural road map for vaccine development.

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Journal of Bacteriology, v. 203, issue 15, art. e00082-21