HtrA, which has a high molecular mass of about 500 kDa, is a periplasmic heat shock protein whose proteolytic activity is essential for the survival of Escherichia coli at high temperatures. To determine the structural organization of HtrA, we have used electron microscopy and chemical cross-linking analysis. The averaged image of HtrA with end-on orientation revealed a six-membered, ring-shaped structure with a central cavity, and its side-on view showed a two-layered structure. Thus, HtrA behaves as a dodecamer consisting of two stacks of hexameric ring. HtrA can degrade thermally unfolded citrate synthase and malate dehydrogenase but cannot when in their native form. HtrA degraded partially unfolded casein more rapidly upon increasing the incubation temperature. However, it hydrolyzed oxidized insulin B-chain, which is fully unfolded, at nearly the same rate at all of the temperatures tested. HtrA also rapidly degraded reduced insulin B-chain generated by treatment of insulin with dithiothreitol but not A-chain or intact insulin. Moreover, HtrA degraded fully unfolded alpha-lactalbumin, of which all four disulfide bonds were reduced, but not the native alpha-lactalbumin and its unfolded intermediates containing two or three disulfide bonds. These results indicate that unfolding of the protein substrates, such as by exposure to high temperatures or reduction of disulfide bonds, is essential for their access into the inner chamber of the double ring-shaped HtrA, where cleavage of peptide bonds may occur. Thus, HtrA with a self-compartmentalizing structure may play an important role in elimination of unfolded proteins in the periplasm of Escherichia coli.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.