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Tu-Ahn Dang

Advisor: Peter J. Christie, Ph.D.

Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a plant pathogen with the unique ability to export oncogenic DNA-protein complexes (T-complexes) to susceptible plant cells and cause crown gall tumors. Delivery of the T-complexes across the bacterial membranes requires eleven VirB proteins and VirD4, which are postulated to form a transmembrane transporter. This thesis examines the subcellular localization and oligomeric structure of the 87-kDa VirB4protein, which is one of three essential ATPases proposed to energize T-complex transport and/or assembly. Results of subcellular localization studies showed that VirB4 is tightly associated with the cytoplasmic membrane, suggesting that it is a membrane-spanning protein. The membrane topology of VirB4 was determined by using a nested deletion strategy to generate random fusions between virB4 and the periplasmically-active alkaline phosphatase, PhoA. Analysis of PhoA and complementary beta-galactosidase reporter fusions identified two putative periplasmically-exposed regions in VirB4. A periplasmic exposure of one of these regions was further confirmed by protease susceptibility assays using A. tumefaciens spheroplasts. To gain insight into the structure of the transporter, the topological configurations of other VirB proteins were also examined. Results from hydropathy analyses, subcellular localization, protease susceptibility, and PhoA reporter fusion studies support a model that all of the VirB proteins localize at one or both of the bacterial membranes. Immunoprecipitation and Co2+ affinity chromatography studies demonstrated that native VirB4 (87-kDa) and a functional N-terminally tagged His-VirB4 derivative (89-kDa) interact and that the interaction is independent of other VirB proteins. A l cI repressor fusion assay supplied further evidence for VirB4 dimer formation. A VirB4 dimerization domain was localized to the N-terminal third of the protein, as judged by: i)transdominance of an allele that codes for this region of VirB4; ii)co-retention of a His-tagged N-terminal truncation derivative and nativeVirB4 on Co2+ affinity columns; and iii) dimer formation of the N-terminal third of VirB4 fused to the cI repressor protein. Taken together, these findings are consistent with a model that VirB4 is topologically configured as an integral cytoplasmic membrane protein with two periplasmic domains and that VirB4 assembles as homodimers via an N-terminal dimerization domain. Dimer formation is postulated to be essential for stabilization ofVirB4 monomers during T-complex transporter assembly.

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