Yongbin Xu, Minho Lee, Arne Moeller, Saemee Song, Bo-Young Yoon, Hong-Man Kim, So-Young Jun, Kangseok Lee, Nam-Chul Ha
Gram-negative bacteria expel diverse toxic chemicals through the tripartite efflux pumps spanning both the inner and outer membranes. The Escherichia coli AcrAB-TolC pump is the principal multidrug exporter that confers intrinsic drug tolerance to the bacteria. The inner membrane transporter AcrB requires the outer membrane factor TolC and the periplasmic adapter protein AcrA. However, it remains ambiguous how the three proteins are assembled. In this study, a hexameric model of the adapter protein was generated based on the propensity for trimerization of a dimeric unit, and this model was further validated by presenting its channel-forming property that determines the substrate specificity. Genetic, in vitro complementation, and electron microscopic studies provided evidence for the binding of the hexameric adapter protein to the outer membrane factor in an intermeshing cogwheel manner. Structural analyses suggested that the adapter covers the periplasmic region of the inner membrane transporter. Taken together, we propose an adapter bridging model for the assembly of the tripartite pump, where the adapter protein provides a bridging channel and induces the channel opening of the outer membrane factor in the intermeshing tip-to-tip manner.