Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Structural analysis of Brucella abortus RicA substitutions that do not impair interaction with human Rab2 GTPase

Bernard Nkengfac13, Jenny Pouyez2, Emilie Bauwens1, Jean Vandenhaute1, Jean-Jacques Letesson1, Johan Wouters2 and Xavier De Bolle1*

Author Affiliations

1 Molecular Biology Research Unit (URBM), Narilis, University of Namur, 61 Rue Bruxelles, Namur, B-5000, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Structural Biological Chemistry (CBS), member of Narilis, University of Namur, 61 Rue Bruxelles, Namur, B-5000, Belgium

3 Current address: McGill University, McGill University Health Centre, Royal Victoria Hospital, 687 Pine Ave. W., Room L3.05, Montreal, H3A 1A1, Canada

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BMC Biochemistry 2012, 13:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-13-16

Published: 14 August 2012



Protein-protein interactions are at the basis of many cellular processes, and they are also involved in the interaction between pathogens and their host(s). Many intracellular pathogenic bacteria translocate proteins called effectors into the cytoplasm of the infected host cell, and these effectors can interact with one or several host protein(s). An effector named RicA was recently reported in Brucella abortus to specifically interact with human Rab2 and to affect intracellular trafficking of this pathogen.


In order to identify regions of the RicA protein involved in the interaction with Rab2, RicA was subjected to extensive random mutagenesis using error prone polymerase chain reaction. The resulting allele library was selected by the yeast two-hybrid assay for Rab2-interacting clones that were isolated and sequenced, following the “absence of interference” approach. A tridimensional model of RicA structure was used to position the substitutions that did not affect RicA-Rab2 interaction, giving a “negative image” of the putative interaction region. Since RicA is a bacterial conserved protein, RicA homologs were also tested against Rab2 in a yeast two-hybrid assay, and the C. crescentus homolog of RicA was found to interact with human Rab2. Analysis of the RicA structural model suggested that regions involved in the folding of the “beta helix” or an exposed loop with the IGFP sequence could also be involved in the interaction with Rab2. Extensive mutagenesis of the IGFP loop suggested that loss of interaction with Rab2 was correlated with insolubility of the mutated RicA, showing that “absence of interference” approach also generates surfaces that could be necessary for folding.


Extensive analysis of substitutions in RicA unveiled two structural elements on the surface of RicA, the most exposed β-sheet and the IGFP loop, which could be involved in the interaction with Rab2 and protein folding. Our analysis of mutants in the IGFP loop suggests that, at least for some mono-domain proteins such as RicA, protein interaction analysis using allele libraries could be complicated by the dual effect of many substitutions affecting both folding and protein-protein interaction.

Protein-protein interaction; Yeast two-hybrid; Mutagenesis; Brucella