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Journal Article

The S-layer of Caulobacter crescentus: three-dimensional image reconstruction and structure analysis by electron microscopy

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Smit, J., Engelhardt, H., Volker, S., Smith, S. H., & Baumeister, W. (1992). The S-layer of Caulobacter crescentus: three-dimensional image reconstruction and structure analysis by electron microscopy. Journal of Bacteriology, 174(20), 6527-6538.

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The regular surface protein structure (S-layer) of Caulobacter crescentus was analyzed by electron microscopy and three-dimensional image reconstruction to a resolution of 2 nm. Projections showed that the S-layer is an array of ring structures, each composed of six subunits that are arranged on a lattice with p6 symmetry. Three-dimensional reconstructions showed that the ring subunits were approximately rod-shaped structures and were perpendicular to the plane of the array, with a linker arm emanating from approximately the middle of the rod, accounting for the connections between the rings. The calculated subunit mass was ca. 100 kDa, very close to the size of RsaA (the protein known to be at least the predominant species in the S-layer) predicted from the DNA sequence of the rsaA gene. The core region of the rings creates an open pore 2.5 to 3.5 nm in diameter. The size of the gaps between the neighboring unit cells is in the same range, suggesting a uniform porosity predicted to exclude molecules larger than ca. 17 kDa. Attempts to remove membrane material from S-layer preparations with detergents revealed that the structure spontaneously rearranged into a mirror-image double layer. Negative-stain and thin-section electron microscopy examination of colonies of C. crescentus strains with a mutation in a surface molecule involved in the attachment of the S-layer showed that shed RsaA protein organized into large sheets. The sheets in turn organized into stacks that tended to accumulate near the upper surface of the colony. Image reconstruction indicated that these sheets were also precise mirror-image double layers, and thickness measurements obtained from thin sections were consistent with this finding. The sheets were absent when these mutant strains were grown without calcium, supporting other data that calcium is involved in attachment of the S-layer to a surface molecule and perhaps in subunit-subunit interactions. We propose that when the membrane is removed from S-layer fragments by detergents or the attachment-related surface molecule is absent, the attachment sites of the S-layer align precisely to form a double layer via a calcium interaction.