We recently demonstrated that TP_0326 is a bona fide rare outer membrane protein (OMP) in Treponema pallidum and that it possesses characteristic BamA bipartite topology. Herein, we used immunofluorescence analysis (IFA) to show that only the β-barrel domain of TP_0326 contains surface-exposed epitopes in intact T. pallidum. Using the solved structure of Neisseria gonorrhoeae BamA, we generated a homology model of full-length TP_0326. Although the model predicts a typical BamA fold, the β-barrel harbors features not described in other BamAs. Structural modeling predicted that a dome comprised of three large extracellular loops, loop 4 (L4), L6, and L7, covers the barrel's extracellular opening. L4, the dome's major surface-accessible loop, contains mainly charged residues, while L7 is largely neutral and contains a polyserine tract in a two-tiered conformation. L6 projects into the β-barrel but lacks the VRGF/Y motif that anchors L6 within other BamAs. IFA and opsonophagocytosis assay revealed that L4 is surface exposed and an opsonic target. Consistent with B cell epitope predictions, immunoblotting and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) confirmed that L4 is an immunodominant loop in T. pallidum-infected rabbits and humans with secondary syphilis. Antibody capture experiments using Escherichia coli expressing OM-localized TP_0326 as a T. pallidum surrogate further established the surface accessibility of L4. Lastly, we found that a naturally occurring substitution (Leu(593) → Gln(593)) in the L4 sequences of T. pallidum strains affects antibody binding in sera from syphilitic patients. Ours is the first study to employ a "structure-to-pathogenesis" approach to map the surface topology of a T. pallidum OMP within the context of syphilitic infection.
Importance: Previously, we reported that TP_0326 is a bona fide rare outer membrane protein (OMP) in Treponema pallidum and that it possesses the bipartite topology characteristic of a BamA ortholog. Using a homology model as a guide, we found that TP_0326 displays unique features which presumably relate to its function(s) in the biogenesis of T. pallidum's unorthodox OM. The model also enabled us to identify an immunodominant epitope in a large extracellular loop that is both an opsonic target and subject to immune pressure in a human population. Ours is the first study to follow a structure-to-pathogenesis approach to map the surface topology of a T. pallidum rare OMP within the context of syphilitic infection.
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