Background: Metal reduction is thought to take place at or near the bacterial outer membrane and, thus, outer membrane proteins in the model dissimilatory metal-reducing organism Geobacter sulfurreducens are of interest to understand the mechanisms of Fe(III) reduction in the Geobacter species that are the predominant Fe(III) reducers in many environments. Previous studies have implicated periplasmic and outer membrane cytochromes in electron transfer to metals. Here we show that the most abundant outer membrane protein of G. sulfurreducens, OmpJ, is not a cytochrome yet it is required for metal respiration.
Results: When outer membrane proteins of G. sulfurreducens were separated via SDS-PAGE, one protein, designated OmpJ (outer membrane protein J), was particularly abundant. The encoding gene, which was identified from mass spectrometry analysis of peptide fragments, is present in other Geobacteraceae, but not in organisms outside this family. The predicted localization and structure of the OmpJ protein suggested that it was a porin. Deletion of the ompJ gene in G. sulfurreducens produced a strain that grew as well as the wild-type strain with fumarate as the electron acceptor but could not grow with metals, such as soluble or insoluble Fe(III) and insoluble Mn(IV) oxide, as the electron acceptor. The heme c content in the mutant strain was ca. 50% of the wild-type and there was a widespread loss of multiple cytochromes from soluble and membrane fractions. Transmission electron microscopy analyses of mutant cells revealed an unusually enlarged periplasm, which is likely to trigger extracytoplasmic stress response mechanisms leading to the degradation of periplasmic and/or outer membrane proteins, such as cytochromes, required for metal reduction. Thus, the loss of the capacity for extracellular electron transport in the mutant could be due to the missing c-type cytochromes, or some more direct, but as yet unknown, role of OmpJ in metal reduction.
Conclusion: OmpJ is a putative porin found in the outer membrane of the model metal reducer G. sulfurreducens that is required for respiration of extracellular electron acceptors such as soluble and insoluble metals. The effect of OmpJ in extracellular electron transfer is indirect, as OmpJ is required to keep the integrity of the periplasmic space necessary for proper folding and functioning of periplasmic and outer membrane electron transport components. The exclusive presence of ompJ in members of the Geobacteraceae family as well as its role in metal reduction suggest that the ompJ sequence may be useful in tracking the growth or activity of Geobacteraceae in sedimentary environments.