Chaperone Spy Protects Outer Membrane Proteins from Folding Stress via Dynamic Complex Formation

Wei He, Gangjin Yu, Tianpeng Li, Ling Bai, Yuanyuan Yang, Zixiao Xue, Yonghao Pang, Dana Reichmann, Sebastian Hiller, Lichun He*, Maili Liu*, Shu Quan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Gram-negative bacteria have a multicomponent and constitutively active periplasmic chaperone system to ensure the quality control of their outer membrane proteins (OMPs). Recently, OMPs have been identified as a new class of vulnerable targets for antibiotic development, and therefore a comprehensive understanding of OMP quality control network components will be critical for discovering antimicrobials. Here, we demonstrate that the periplasmic chaperone Spy protects certain OMPs against protein-unfolding stress and can functionally compensate for other periplasmic chaperones, namely Skp and FkpA, in the Escherichia coli K-12 MG1655 strain. After extensive in vivo genetic experiments for functional characterization of Spy, we use nuclear magnetic resonance and circular dichroism spectroscopy to elucidate the mechanism by which Spy binds and folds two different OMPs. Along with holding OMP substrates in a dynamic conformational ensemble, Spy binding enables OmpX to form a partially folded b-strand secondary structure. The bound OMP experiences temperature-dependent conformational exchange within the chaperone, pointing to a multitude of local dynamics. Our findings thus deepen the understanding of functional compensation among periplasmic chaperones during OMP biogenesis and will promote the development of innovative antimicrobials against pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria. IMPORTANCE Outer membrane proteins (OMPs) play critical roles in bacterial pathogenicity and provide a new niche for antibiotic development. A comprehensive understanding of the OMP quality control network will strongly impact antimicrobial discovery. Here, we systematically demonstrate that the periplasmic chaperone Spy has a role in maintaining the homeostasis of certain OMPs. Remarkably, Spy utilizes a unique chaperone mechanism to bind OmpX and allows it to form a partially folded b-strand secondary structure in a dynamic exchange of conformations. This mechanism differs from that of other E. coli periplasmic chaperones such as Skp and SurA, both of which maintain OMPs in disordered conformations. Our study thus deepens the understanding of the complex OMP quality control system and highlights the differences in the mechanisms of ATP-independent chaperones.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere02130-21
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 He et al.


  • Chaperone
  • Folding stress
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Outer membrane protein biogenesis
  • Protein-protein interaction


Dive into the research topics of 'Chaperone Spy Protects Outer Membrane Proteins from Folding Stress via Dynamic Complex Formation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this