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Open Access Research article

Structural insights into the membrane-extracted dimeric form of the ATPase TraB from the Escherichia coli pKM101 conjugation system

Eric Durand13, Gabriel Waksman1* and Veronique Receveur-Brechot2*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, UCL/Birkbeck, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK

2 IMR-CNRS - UPR3243, 31 Chemin Joseph Aiguier, 13402 Marseille Cedex 20, France

3 LISM-CNRS - UPR9027, 31 Chemin Joseph Aiguier, 13402 Marseille Cedex 20, France

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BMC Structural Biology 2011, 11:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-11-4

Published: 25 January 2011



Type IV secretion (T4S) systems are involved in secretion of virulence factors such as toxins or transforming molecules, or bacterial conjugation. T4S systems are composed of 12 proteins named VirB1-B11 and VirD4. Among them, three ATPases are involved in the assembly of the T4S system and/or provide energy for substrate transfer, VirB4, VirB11 and VirD4. The X-ray crystal structures of VirB11 and VirD4 have already been solved but VirB4 has proven to be reluctant to any structural investigation so far.


Here, we have used small-angle X-ray scattering to obtain the first structural models for the membrane-extracted, dimeric form of the TraB protein, the VirB4 homolog encoded by the E. coli pKM101 plasmid, and for the monomeric soluble form of the LvhB4 protein, the VirB4 homolog of the T4S system encoded by the Legionella pneumophila lvh operon. We have obtained the low resolution structures of the full-length TraB and of its N- and C-terminal halves. From these SAXS models, we derive the internal organisation of TraB. We also show that the two TraB N- and C-terminal domains are independently involved in the dimerisation of the full-length protein.


These models provide the first structural insights into the architecture of VirB4 proteins. In particular, our results highlight the modular arrangement and functional relevance of the dimeric-membrane-bound form of TraB.