Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli O127 is encapsulated by a protective layer of polysaccharide made of the same strain specific O-antigen as the serotype lipopolysaccharide. Seven genes encoding capsule export functions comprise the group 4 capsule (gfc) operon. Genes gfcE, etk and etp encode homologs of the group 1 capsule secretion system but the upstream gfcABCD genes encode unknown functions specific to group 4 capsule export. We have developed an expression system for the large-scale production of the outer membrane protein GfcD. Contrary to annotations, we find that GfcD is a non-acylated integral membrane protein. Circular dichroism spectroscopy, light-scattering data, and the HHomp server suggested that GfcD is a monomeric β-barrel with 26 β-strands and an internal globular domain. We identified a set of novel protein-protein interactions between GfcB, GfcC, and GfcD, both in vivo and in vitro, and quantified the binding properties with isothermal calorimetry and biolayer interferometry. GfcC and GfcB form a high-affinity heterodimer with a KD near 100 nM. This heterodimer binds to GfcD (KD = 28 μM) significantly better than either GfcB or GfcC alone. These gfc proteins may form a complex at the outer membrane for group 4 capsule secretion or for a yet unknown function.
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© 2021 Larson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.