Volume 7 (2011) Pages 129-133
Protein transport across membranes is a fundamental and essential cellular activity in all organisms. In bacteria, protein export across the cytoplasmic membrane, driven by dynamic interplays between the protein-conducting SecYEG channel (Sec translocon) and the SecA ATPase, is enhanced by the proton motive force (PMF) and a membrane-integrated Sec component, SecDF. However, the structure and function of SecDF have remained unclear. We solved the first crystal structure of SecDF, consisting of a pseudo-symmetrical 12-helix transmembrane domain and two protruding periplasmic domains. Based on the structural features, we proposed that SecDF functions as a membrane-integrated chaperone, which drives protein movement without using the major energetic currency, ATP, but with remarkable cycles of conformational changes, powered by the proton gradient across the membrane. By a series of biochemical and biophysical approaches, several functionally important residues in the transmembrane region have been identified and our model of the SecDF function has been verified.