Definitive identification of Treponema pallidum rare outer membrane proteins (OMPs) has long eluded researchers. TP0326, the sole protein in T. pallidum with sequence homology to a Gram-negative OMP, belongs to the BamA family of proteins essential for OM biogenesis. Structural modelling predicted that five polypeptide transport-associated (POTRA) domains comprise the N-terminus of TP0326, while the C-terminus forms an 18-stranded amphipathic β-barrel. Circular dichroism, heat modifiability by SDS-PAGE, Triton X-114 phase partitioning and liposome incorporation supported these topological predictions and confirmed that the β-barrel is responsible for the native protein's amphiphilicity. Expression analyses revealed that native TP0326 is expressed at low abundance, while a protease-surface accessibility assay confirmed surface exposure. Size-exclusion chromatography and blue native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed a modular Bam complex in T. pallidum larger than that of Escherichia coli. Non-orthologous ancillary factors and self-association of TP0326 via its β-barrel may both contribute to the Bam complex. T. pallidum-infected rabbits mount a vigorous antibody response to both POTRA and β-barrel portions of TP0326, whereas humans with secondary syphilis respond predominantly to POTRA. The syphilis spirochaete appears to have devised a stratagem for harnessing the Bam pathway while satisfying its need to limit surface antigenicity.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.