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Xiaolan Ma

Advisor: William Margolin, Ph.D.

In the current model for bacterial cell division, FtsZ protein forms a ring that marks the division plane, creating a cytoskeletal framework for the subsequent action of other essential division proteins such as FtsA and ZipA. The putative protein complex ultimately generates the division septum. The essential cell division protein FtsZ is a functional and structural homolog of eukaryotic tubulin, and like tubulin, FtsZ hydrolyzes GTP and self-assembles into protein filaments in a strictly GTP-dependent manner. FtsA shares sequence similarity with members of the ATPase superfamily that include actin, but its actual function remains unknown. To test the division model and elucidate functions of the division proteins, this dissertation primarily focuses on the analysis of FtsZ and FtsA in Escherichia coli.

By tagging with green fluorescent protein, we first demonstrated that FtsA also exhibits a ring-like structure at the potential division site. The localization of FtsA was dependent on functional FtsZ, suggesting that FtsA is recruited to the septum by the FtsZ ring. In support of this idea, we showed that FtsA and FtsZ directly interact. Using a novel E. coli in situ assay, we found that the FtsA-FtsZ interaction appears to be species-specific, although an interspecies interaction could occur between FtsA and FtsZ proteins from two closely related organisms. In addition, mutagenesis of FtsA revealed that no single domain is solely responsible for its septal localization or interaction with FtsZ. To explore the function of FtsA, we purified FtsA protein and demonstrated that it has ATPase activity. Furthermore, purified FtsA stimulates disassembly of FtsZ polymers in a sedimentation assay but does not affect GTP hydrolysis of FtsZ. This result suggests that in the cell, FtsA may function similarly in regulating dynamic instability of the FtsZ ring during the cell division process.

To elucidate the structure-function relationship of FtsZ, we carried out thorough genetic and functional analyses of the mutagenized FtsZ derivatives. Our results indicate that the conserved N-terminal domain of FtsZ is necessary and sufficient for FtsZ self assembly and localization. Moreover, we discovered a critical role for an extreme C-terminal domain of FtsZ that consists of only 12 residues. Truncated FtsZ derivatives lacking this domain, though able to polymerize and localize, are defective in ring formation in vivo as well as interaction with FtsA and ZipA. Alanine scanning mutagenesis of this region pinpointed at least five residues necessary for the function of FtsZ. Studies of protein levels and protein-protein interactions suggested that these residues may be involved in regulating protein stability and/or FtsZ-FtsA interactions. Interestingly, two of the point mutants exhibited dominant-negative phenotypes.

In summary, results from this thesis work have provided additional support for the division machinery model and will contribute to a better understanding of the coordinate functions of FtsA and FtsZ in the cell division process.

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Research Info

Genetic and Functional Analyses of Cell Division Proteins FtsZ and FtsA in Escherichia coli