Tuberculosis-causing mycobacteria have thick cell-wall and capsule layers that are formed from complex structures. Protein secretion across these barriers depends on a specialized protein secretion system, but none has been reported. We show that Mycobacterium tuberculosis Rv3705c and its homologous MSMEG_6251 in Mycobacterium smegmatis are tube-forming proteins in the mycobacterial envelope (TiME). Crystallographic and cryo-EM structures of these two proteins show that both proteins form rotationally symmetric rings. Two layers of TiME rings pack together in a tail-to-tail manner into a ring-shaped complex, which, in turn, stacks together to form tubes. M. smegmatis TiME was detected mainly in the cell wall and capsule. Knocking out the TiME gene markedly decreased the amount of secreted protein in the M. smegmatis culture medium, and expression of this gene in knocked-out strain partially restored the level of secreted protein. Our structure and functional data thus suggest that TiME forms a protein transport tube across the mycobacterial outer envelope.
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