Transmembrane alpha-helix interactions are required for the functional assembly of the Escherichia coli Tol complex

J Mol Biol. 1995 Feb 10;246(1):1-7. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1994.0058.


TolQ, TolR and TolA are membrane proteins involved in maintaining the structure of Escherichia coli cell envelope. TolQ and TolR span the inner membrane with three and with one alpha-helical segments, respectively. The tolQ925 mutation (A177V), located in the third putative transmembrane helix of TolQ (TolQ-III), induces cell sensitivity to bile salts and tolerance towards colicin A but not colicin E1, unlike a null tolQ mutation, which induces tolerance to all group A colicins. Since TolQ is required for colicin A and E1 uptake, in contrast to TolR, which is necessary only for colicin A, we hypothesized that the tolQ925 mutation might affect an interaction between TolQ and TolR. We therefore searched for suppressor mutations in TolR that would restore cell envelope integrity and colicin A sensitivity to the tolQ925 mutant. Five different tolR alleles were isolated and characterized. Four of these suppressor mutations were found to be clustered in the single putative transmembrane helix of TolR (TolR-I) and one was located at the extreme C terminus of the protein. In addition, we isolated a spontaneous intragenic suppressor localized in the first transmembrane helix of TolQ (TolQ-I). These observations strongly suggest that TolR and TolQ interact via their transmembrane segments. Sequence analysis indicates that Ala177 lies on the alpha-helix face of TolQ-III that, according to its composition and evolutionary conservation, is the most likely to be involved in protein/protein interaction. Energy minimization of atomic models of the wild-type and mutated forms of TolQ-III and TolR-I suggests that the deleterious effect of the A177V substitution arises from a direct steric hindrance of this residue with neighboring transmembrane segments, and that suppressor mutations may alleviate this effect either directly or indirectly, e.g. by affecting the stability of conformational equilibrium of the transmembrane region of the complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Colicins / pharmacology
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Structure, Secondary*
  • Suppression, Genetic


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Colicins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • tolA protein, E coli
  • tolQ protein, E coli
  • tolR protein, E coli