Soluble TatA forms oligomers that interact with membranes: Structure and insertion studies of a versatile protein transporter

Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2021 Feb 1;1863(2):183529. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2020.183529. Epub 2020 Dec 3.


The twin-arginine translocase (Tat) mediates the transport of already-folded proteins across membranes in bacteria, plants and archaea. TatA is a small, dynamic subunit of the Tat-system that is believed to be the active component during target protein translocation. TatA is foremost characterized as a bitopic membrane protein, but has also been found to partition into a soluble, oligomeric structure of yet unknown function. To elucidate the interplay between the membrane-bound and soluble forms we have investigated the oligomers formed by Arabidopsis thaliana TatA. We used several biophysical techniques to study the oligomeric structure in solution, the conversion that takes place upon interaction with membrane models of different compositions, and the effect on bilayer integrity upon insertion. Our results demonstrate that in solution TatA oligomerizes into large objects with a high degree of ordered structure. Upon interaction with lipids, conformational changes take place and TatA disintegrates into lower order oligomers. The insertion of TatA into lipid bilayers causes a temporary leakage of small molecules across the bilayer. The disruptive effect on the membrane is dependent on the liposome's negative surface charge density, with more leakage observed for purely zwitterionic bilayers. Overall, our findings indicate that A. thaliana TatA forms oligomers in solution that insert into bilayers, a process that involves reorganization of the protein oligomer.

Keywords: Chemical crosslinking; Circular dichroism; Electron microscopy; Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy; Light scattering; Membrane insertion; Membrane leakage; Oligomer; Twin-arginine translocase; Vesicles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis Proteins* / chemistry
  • Arabidopsis Proteins* / metabolism
  • Arabidopsis* / chemistry
  • Arabidopsis* / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane* / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane* / metabolism
  • Lipid Bilayers* / chemistry
  • Lipid Bilayers* / metabolism
  • Membrane Transport Proteins* / chemistry
  • Membrane Transport Proteins* / metabolism
  • Protein Multimerization*


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • TatA protein, Arabidopsis