Functional and structural characterization of polysaccharide co-polymerase proteins required for polymer export in ATP-binding cassette transporter-dependent capsule biosynthesis pathways

J Biol Chem. 2011 May 13;286(19):16658-68. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.228221. Epub 2011 Mar 18.


Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B and Escherichia coli K1 bacteria produce a capsular polysaccharide (CPS) that is composed of α2,8-linked polysialic acid (PSA). Biosynthesis of PSA in these bacteria occurs via an ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporter-dependent pathway. In N. meningitidis, export of PSA to the surface of the bacterium requires two proteins that form an ABC transporter (CtrC and CtrD) and two additional proteins, CtrA and CtrB, that are proposed to form a cell envelope-spanning export complex. CtrA is a member of the outer membrane polysaccharide export (OPX) family of proteins, which are proposed to form a pore to mediate export of CPSs across the outer membrane. CtrB is an inner membrane protein belonging to the polysaccharide co-polymerase (PCP) family. PCP proteins involved in other bacterial polysaccharide assembly systems form structures that extend into the periplasm from the inner membrane. There is currently no structural information available for PCP or OPX proteins involved in an ABC transporter-dependent CPS biosynthesis pathway to support their proposed roles in polysaccharide export. Here, we report cryo-EM images of purified CtrB reconstituted into lipid bilayers. These images contained molecular top and side views of CtrB and showed that it formed a conical oligomer that extended ∼125 Å from the membrane. This structure is consistent with CtrB functioning as a component of an envelope-spanning complex. Cross-complementation of CtrA and CtrB in E. coli mutants with defects in genes encoding the corresponding PCP and OPX proteins show that PCP-OPX pairs require interactions with their cognate partners to export polysaccharide. These experiments add further support for the model of an ABC transporter-PCP-OPX multiprotein complex that functions to export CPS across the cell envelope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / chemistry*
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / chemistry*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biological Transport
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy / methods
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neisseria meningitidis / metabolism*
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Polymers
  • Polysaccharides
  • Adenosine Triphosphate